The Common Kingfisher Bird, a DescriptionKeith
The Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), is one of Britain’s most brightly coloured birds.
They are widespread, becoming less common further north, however, following some declines last century, they are currently increasing in their range in Scotland.
The bird is found by still or slow flowing water such as lakes, canals and rivers. In winter, some individuals move to estuaries and the coast. They may also visit suitably sized garden ponds.
Common Kingfishers measure 17–19 centimetres and have a wingspan of 25 centimetres. Their beak is around 4 centimetres long and pointy. Kingfishers have short, orange coloured legs. The colour of their wings is a blue/green colour and their upperparts, rump and tail are a vivid blue colour. Their underparts are bright orange and they have a small, white bib on their throats.
The bird’s head is blue with orange marks in front and behind the eyes and a white mark on each side of the head. These bright, beautiful colours are more apparent when it is flying.
The bird has monocular vision (in which each eye is used separately) in the air and binocular vision (in which both eyes are used together) in water. The underwater vision is not as a sharp as in the air, however, the ability to judge the distance of moving prey is more important than the sharpness of the image.
The Common kingfisher has no particular song, however, they vocalize using a shrill ‘tsee’ or ‘tsee-tsee’ call. Their flight call is a short sharp whistle, chee, repeated two or three times
The species bobs its head when food is detected to gauge the distance and plunges steeply down to nab its prey usually no deeper than 25 centimetres below the surface of the water.
The wings are opened under water and the open eyes are protected by the transparent third eyelid. The bird rises beak-first from the surface and flies back to its perch where the fish is adjusted until it is held near its tail and beaten against the perch. Once dead, the fish is swallowed head-first. A few times each day, a small greyish pellet of fish bones and other indigestible remains is regurgitated.
Like all of the species, the Common Kingfisher is highly territorial. Since it must eat around 60% of its body weight each day, it is essential to have control over a suitable stretch of river. It is solitary for most of the year, roosting alone in heavy cover. If another kingfisher enters its territory, both birds ‘display’ from perches and fights may occur. One bird will grab the others beak and try to hold it under water. Pairs form in the autumn but each bird retains a separate territory, generally at least 1 kilometre long.
The female lays 5 or 7 white, glossy eggs but sometimes up to 10. The male and the female share the job of incubating the eggs for about 20 days. Both incubate by day, however, only the female kingfisher incubates by night. The eggs hatch in 19 – 20 days and the young remain in the nest for a further 24 – 25 days, sometimes longer. Once large enough, young birds will come to the burrow entrance to be fed. Two to three broods may be reared in a season.