Common Kingfisher


 Kingfishers are found in most areas of the world with the majority of species found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. One of the explanations for the name “kingfisher” is that they, like swans, belonged to royalty and were called the “King’s fisher”. Another explanation is that the name comes from the old Norse “Kungsfiskare” which referred to the Common Kingfisher. 

The Common Kingfisher (Eurasian Kingfisher or just Kingfisher), Alcedo atthis. Alcedo is Latin for “kingfisher” and the species name atthis comes from a Greek myth referring to a beautiful youth of that name. A sparrow-sized bird,  the Common Kingfisher has the typical short-tailed, large-headed kingfisher profile. The body is azure blue on top and orange underneath; the legs and feet are bright red. 

As the name suggests, the Common Kingfisher specializes in preying on fish such as minnows and sticklebacks although it will also feed on insects and crustaceans. Its hunting technique is equal parts stealth and speed. From a nicely located perch near the water, the bird puts its amazingly adapted eyesight to work, scanning the water below for movement. A special adaptation, the presence of oil droplets in its eyes, is thought to help reduce glare and improve color vision to detect prey under the water’s surface. Once it has spotted prey, the bird bobs its head up and down to accurately judge the distance and plan the direction of its strike. It may hover in mid-air before diving to the water. Then it steeply dives bill-first into the water, its eyes shielded by a transparent eyelid. It seizes its prey with its bill, occasionally impaling it, and emerges from the water to return to its perch, after which it beats the prey to subdue or soften it before swallowing. The kingfisher will also regurgitate pellets of undigestible material such as fish bones.

Since the kingfisher eats 60% of its own weight every day, it needs to protect its food source, so the kingfisher is territorial, defending a stretch of river or stream from other birds who might intrude.

The nest is typically in a burrow excavated by both birds of a pair in a riverbank. The long burrow terminates in an enlarged chamber, unlined but eventually accumulates fish remains and cast pellets. The Common Kingfisher typically lays 5-7 eggs which hatch in 19–20 days; when large enough, the young birds will come to the burrow entrance to be fed until they fledge.