Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

loading
Kingfisher perched on branch over lake
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • Though relatively widespread across central and southern England, the kingfisher is somewhat elusive and is therefore rarely seen.
  • Kingfishers are not limited to rivers and can be found on coasts and marshes.
  • While it is considered an iconic British bird the kingfisher can actually be found in the African Savanah, throughout Europe and Asia as far East as Japan.
  • Though famous for perching on branches, the kingfisher can also hover just above the water before diving in for its prey. 
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Kingfisher fact file

Kingfisher description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCoraciiformes
FamilyAlcedinidae
GenusAlcedo (1)

The beautiful iridescent plumage of the kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) makes it one of our most colourful and instantly recognisable birds; despite this it is rarely seen due to its shy nature (2). The upperparts are bright blue, while the underparts are a rich chestnut-red (5), although if seen in flight these colours may not be very obvious (6). The bill is very long and dagger-like (5). Although the sexes are generally similar, in breeding pairs they can be distinguished by the bill; in females it has a red base, whereas in males it is completely black (2). Although similar to adults, kingfisher juveniles have duller, greener plumage (2).

French
Martin-pêcheur d'Europe.
Size
Length: 17-19.5 cm (of which bill = 4 cm) (2)
Top

Kingfisher biology

The kingfisher feeds mainly on fish and invertebrates, which it catches by perching on a convenient branch or other structure overhanging the water, and plunging into the water when suitable prey comes within striking distance (2). If a suitable perch is not present, individuals may hover over the water whilst searching for prey (2).

During the breeding season, kingfisher pairs perform a display flight whilst calling. The nest consists of a tunnel in a riverbank or amongst the roots of a tree; both sexes help to excavate the tunnel, which terminates in a rounded chamber. In April or May six to seven whitish eggs are laid on the bare earth, but after some time regurgitated fish bones form a lining to the nest chamber. Both parents incubate the eggs for 19 to 21 days. The young kingfishers fledge after around 23 to 27 days, before this time they may eagerly approach the entrance of the tunnel when waiting to be fed (5).

Top

Kingfisher range

In Britain, the kingfisher is widespread (5); its stronghold is central and southern England (7), becoming scarce in Scotland (5). Until the mid 1980s, the kingfisher underwent a decline in both range and numbers in its main habitat of linear waterways. Since then, it seems to have experienced a recovery, however it is not yet clear if this recovery is complete (8). Elsewhere, the kingfisher is found across Europe, and in most of Asia, reaching as far east as Japan. It also occurs in Africa south of the Sahara (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Kingfisher habitat

May inhabit all types of fresh water, including ponds, canals, rivers and streams (5). The kingfisher may also exploit brackish waters on the coast and marshes (5).

Top

Kingfisher status

The kingfisher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Specially protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

Top

Kingfisher threats

The kingfisher population undergoes fluctuations, but there is no long-term trend in numbers. It is vulnerable to spells of severe winter weather, since when water bodies freeze over kingfishers are unable to feed (6).

Top

Kingfisher conservation

The kingfisher is fully protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
Top

Find out more

For more on the kingfisher:

 For more information on the kingisher and other bird species:

Top

Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

Top

Glossary

Brackish
Slightly salty water.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Top

References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended (November 2002):
    http://www.english-nature.org.uk/science/licensing/pdf/protected_species_part_i.pdf
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  6. RSPB (2003): Pers. comm.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  8. BTO: Breeding birds of the wider countryside (November 2002):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/wcrkingf.htm
X
Close

Image credit

Kingfisher perched on branch over lake  
Kingfisher perched on branch over lake

© Michel Rauch / Biosphoto

Biosphoto
16 rue Velouterie
Avignon
84000
France
Tel: +33 (490) 162 042
Fax: +33 (663) 208 434
http://www.biosphoto.com/

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is featured in the Mediterranean Basin eco-region

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog