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Seven top tips to spot a kingfisher

If seeing a kingfisher in real life is on your tick-list, we’ve put together some handy tips that might help you spot these elusive creatures along our canals and rivers.

A kingfisher on a branch perch

Kingfishers are a beautiful sight along our waterways, with many known 'hotspots' across the network. Measuring only 17cm and shy in nature, catching a glimpse of their unmistakeable cobalt blue and bright orange can be tricky - but not impossible. Our ecologists ensure 2,000 miles of canals form an interconnected nature-highway, so head to the towpath and see what you can spot.

1. Head somewhere where the water is slow, shallow and full of prey

From fish to newts, shrimps to aquatic insects, kingfishers have a fairly varied diet, so visiting a stretch of water where there's likely to be tempting delicacies will be a good start. They also prefer areas where they can easily see activity below the water – so shallow, slow-flowing spots are also a good idea.

A kingfisher with a fish in its mouth

2. Visit the canal in the early morning

Kingfishers are early risers. They need to eat regularly, so often wake hungry and head out straight away in search of food.

3. Make the most of the spring and summer months

Kingfishers don't migrate abroad, so they'll be present on our waterways all year round. However, April - August is when you're most likely to see one. This is during and after breeding season when they've got more mouths to feed.

At this time of year, a pair of kingfishers may have to catch at least 100 small fish every day to make sure their offspring are suitably fed, which means more time on the banks.

4. Look closely at low, overhanging branches

Kingfishers enjoy a spot of fishing from branches that overhang into the water, as these enable them to swoop at speed and catch their prey. Often, they perch on fairly slender stems, not too high up from the surface of the water.

Kingfishers perch on slender branches close to the water to hunt effectively

5. Listen as well as look

Kingfishers like to sing. Their single or two-note whistle is loud, high-pitched and can travel some distance. Some refer to it as a 'PEEP' noise.

If you hear their call, cast your gaze in that direction and look out for a lightning bolt flash of blue close to the water.

6. Keep the noise down

Kingfishers are shy and can be easily spooked, so keeping quiet and still is also going to help you on your mission to spot one.

7. Be patient

Even if you're doing all of the above, there's no guarantee that you'll succeed. But don't give up – make peace with the fact that you could be out and about for a little while, enjoy the wonderful surroundings of our canals and rivers, and take some time to unwind in nature.

A kingfisher on a perch

A polite reminder

Please remember that kingfishers are protected in the UK, and it is illegal to disturb their burrows. Going too close to a burrow may cause parents to abandon their eggs or chicks.

Good luck!

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Last Edited: 25 April 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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