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The 'King of Fishers' is usually glimpsed as a sudden flash of glistening blue. Even dedicated bird-spotters can fail to catch sight of it until it takes flight.

A kingfisher on a perch

Kingfishers travel at lightning-fast speeds. They catch several fish each day, raise up to three broods every season and fiercely defend their territory at all times.

There are more than 80 species of kingfisher around the world, but only one is native to Britain. Our kingfisher makes its home in dense cover near slow-flowing fresh water, such as canals, lakes and rivers in lowland areas.

If you are extremely lucky, and you have a large pond, you may spot the occasional kingfisher gliding through your garden. In the UK, southern regions are blessed with healthy populations, but kingfishers become scarce further north and are rarely sighted in Scotland.

A blue kingfisher in flight.

Experts at fishing

Smaller than a starling, the kingfisher is a fearsome predator, readily tackling prey larger and heavier than itself. It will perch patiently, on the look-out for any tell-tale fish movements in the water below. When it spots a fish, the kingfisher makes a split-second assessment of its depth and precise location and then dives, bill-first, into the water. With eyes closed and beak half-open, the kingfisher seizes the slippery prey and carries it back to his perch.

The design of a kingfisher's beak is aerodynamically efficient, allowing it to dive from its perch, towards its prey, with maximum speed and minimum splash. In fact, the beak design is so clever that the front of many Japanese bullet trains are modelled to mimic it.

A kingfisher with a fish in its mouth

Kingfishers are protected from being disturbed on or near an active nest. Please take care not to go too close to a nest as this may cause parents to abandon their eggs or chicks.

Kingfisher facts

Appearance: Brightly coloured with a cobalt-blue back, tail and head, bright orange underparts and a white bib. Legs are short and red or orange in colour. Females have orange markings on the lower part of their long bill

Size: Length 16-17cm, wingspan 24-26cm

Weight: 35-50g

Lifespan: Maximum 15 years. On average kingfishers live for 7 years

Diet: Predominantly fish. Also tadpoles, shrimps and aquatic insects when available

Family: Alcedinidae

Family nature guide 2019

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Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 11 July 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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