Alcedo atthis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Coraciiformes > Alcedinidae
Despite its brightly-coloured plumage, the Kingfisher can be a challenging bird to spot when perched on a waterside branch. More often than not you will be first alerted to its presence by its piping call.
Widely distributed on lowland rivers and still-waters, the Kingfisher is a species whose fortunes have waxed and waned. Numbers are impacted by severe winter weather, and this may be the main driver of change, but changing water quality and availability of favoured prey may also play a role.
Kingfishers may move away from their breeding territories during the winter months, including to more coastal sites, in order to reduce the impacts of poor winter weather on fishing opportunities.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Kingfisher
Kingfisher identification is usually straightforward.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Kingfisher, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
The Kingfisher declined along linear waterways (its principal habitat) until the mid 1980s, since when it seems to have made a complete recovery, only to enter another decline, though numbers are still much higher now than in the mid 1980s. The initial decline was associated with a contraction of range in England (Gibbons et al. 1993). Though the amber listing of this species in the UK results from its 'depleted' status in Europe as a whole, numbers across Europe have fluctuated but have been broadly stable since 1991 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).
|UK breeding population||No population change in UK (1995–2020)|
|UK winter population||+44% increase (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
Kingfishers are widely distributed on the lowland rivers of Britain & Ireland. They are resident, with some dispersal away from breeding territories outside the breeding period, especially by juvenile birds. In Britain this may explain the greater number of 10-km squares occupied in winter than in the breeding season.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1400|
|% occupied in breeding season||46|
|No. occupied in winter||1675|
|% occupied in winter||55|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Along Rivers|
Patterns of distribution change indicate large gains in winter range in both Britain and Ireland since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, when numbers were at a low point following several cold winters.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||-2.1%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+45.7%|
Kingfishers are present throughout the year, though more likely to be recorded post-breeding in autumn.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Kingfisher, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||4 years 6 months 29 days (set in 2012)|
|Typical Lifespan||2 years with breeding typically at 1 year|
|Adult Survival||0.28 (Male: 0.28± Female: 0.28±)|
|Juvenile Survival||0.215 (in first year)|
|Wing Length||Adults||78.8±1.8 | Range 76–82mm, N=607|
|Juveniles||78.8±1.7 | Range 76-82mm, N=2526|
|Males||78.6±1.8 | Range 76–81mm, N=333|
|Females||79.2±1.7 | Range 76–82mm, N=230|
|Body Weight||Adults||39.1±3.45 | Range 34.5–45.5g, N=554|
|Juveniles||36.3±2.6691 | Range 32.6–41.0g, N=2282|
|Males||38.1±3 | Range 33.9–44.0g, N=307|
|Females||40.4±3.64 | Range 35.4–46.6g, N=209|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: KF | 5-letter code: KINGF | Euring: 8310|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Kingfisher from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
It is likely that winter weather is the main cause of population change for Kingfisher, although the possible effects of other potential longer term drivers of change (e.g. changes to water quality) have not been investigated.
Further information on causes of change
Kingfishers suffer severe mortality during harsh winters (for instance in the 1981/82 winter) but, with up to three broods in a season, and up to six chicks in a brood, their potential for rapid population growth is high. It is likely, therefore, that winter weather is the main driver of population change.
Information about conservation actions
Whilst severe weather is believed to be the main driver of annual population changes for this species, continued improvements to water quality and the provision of new wetland habitats are likely to have benefitted this species.
The provision of artificial nesting sites may enable this species to breed at sites where good quality natural nesting sites are limited or absent. This may include artificial sand or earth banks (Hopkins 2001) or alternative options such as artificial burrows drilled into a limestone cliff which were used by both Sand Martins and Kingfisher (Gulickx et al. 2007).
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