Common kingfisher

Facts about common kingfisher

We found 14 facts about common kingfisher

A symbol of happiness

Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) attracts the attention of ornithologists and bird lovers worldwide because of its unusual appearance. This small bird with an intensive blue plumage, that appears to glisten in the sun, is exceptionally beautiful and characterful. Its blue plumage contrasts with a brilliantly orange belly and breast, making it one of the most recognizable birds in its habitat.

It lives in aquatic areas, as fish and insects form the main part of its diet. It is an excellent diver, a caring parent, a builder of tunnels that are nests, and a lover of sunny days, during which it is most active. In some cultures, it is considered a symbol of good luck, and its presence is associated with positive events.

Its presence over the waters adds beauty to the landscape and is an important part of aquatic ecosystems.

Common kingfisher
The common kingfisher, also known as the river kingfisher or the Eurasian kingfisher, is a small bird in the family Alcedinidae.

The kingfisher family includes over 90 species of small birds with large heads, long, laterally flattened, and sharp beaks, short legs, and tails. It includes three clads: Alcediniae, Halcyoninae, and Cerylinae. Among the Alcediniae there are Ispidina, Corythornis, Ceyx, and Alcedo.

The common kingfisher was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in Systema Naturae as Gracula atthis.

The modern binomial name is derived from the Latin alcedo “kingfisher,” and Atthis, a beautiful young woman from Lesbos, a favorite of Safona.

The closest relative of the common kingfisher is the cerulean kingfisher (Alcedo coerulescens), which is native to Indonesia.

It is widely distributed in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

It occurs in southern and central Europe, northern Africa, and southern Asia in a belt from the Deccan to the Malay Archipelago, east to Sakhalin and Japan. It cannot be found in Iceland, northern Scotland, northern Scandinavia, and Siberia, as well as in high mountainous regions and deserts.

Common kingfisher prefers the vicinity of clear, inland waters – rivers, streams, lake shores, and ponds that have steep banks and hanging roots and branches. It lives near moderately fast-flowing or still waters with small populations of fish.

In Central Europe, it is a sedentary bird.

It migrates at night from areas with prolonged cold weather in winter. Most birds winterize in the southern regions of the breeding area, but some make their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Africa or through the mountains of Malaysia to Southeast Asia. 

Some kingfishers must travel at least 3000 kilometers between the breeding sites and wintering grounds.

The presence of kingfishers over some bodies of water confirms its standard.

The highest density of nesting birds is found in habitats with clear water, which provides optimal visibility of prey.

Common kingfishers are the size of a sparrow.

Their body length ranges from 16 to 18 centimeters and their weight is between 35 to 40 grams. The wingspan is about 25 centimeters. Their bodies are stocky, with short legs, short tail feathers, and broad wings. A large head with a sharp beak about four centimeters long is set on a short neck – the head and beak are almost the length of the torso.

These birds are interestingly colored; on the outside they are blue, the back is light blue, and the wings have a greenish tinge that glistens in light. Their underside is orange with a white throat.

Males and chicks have black beaks, which may be slightly flared from below. Females’ beaks have orange underside.

They are not songbirds.

They use a few sharp sounds depending on the situation: the call for flight is a short, sharp whistle repeated two or three times, and distress is a sharp, penetrating sound. Hungry chicks calling for food make bubbling sounds.

During courtship, common kingfishers are particularly fond of calling, slightly changing their voices.

Common kingfishers are highly territorial.

Each day they must consume approximately 60 percent of their body mass, which means they must control a specific stretch of river. They are solitary for most of the year, so when another bird enters the claimed territory, birds start brutally fighting by grabbing each other beaks and trying to hold it underwater.

They form pairs in autumn.

However, each bird maintains a separate territory, usually at least one kilometer long, but no more than three and a half kilometers. These territories are not reunited until spring. Males begin courting females by swaying from side to side, and constant calling. It is followed by ritual feeding that usually ends with copulation.

Common kingfishers' nests are tunnels drilled into the slopes of rivers or the banks of ponds.

Both males and females dig the burrow with their beaks. The tunnel can be up to six centimeters wide and ends with a circular chamber up to one meter long. Its curved design makes it difficult for predators to access the nest.

Females can establish several broods, each with six to eight eggs.

Eggs are hatched by both parents for about 20 days. Chicks leave the nest after 22-27 days, once they gain flight ability. If circumstances are favorable, the female establishes a second brood of eggs, in which case males tend to the first brood, feeding chicks with insects or small fish, and females hatch the second brood.

During mating season, females can establish up to three broods.

Independency can be very difficult and dangerous for chicks.

The first dives may end with the chick drowning. Many do not manage to learn how to catch fish before they are driven from their parents’ territory – only about half survive more than a week or two. Most chicks die from cold or lack of food.

About 80 percent of chicks die between leaving the nest and the next breeding season. Similarly, about 70 percent of adults die within a year. Few individuals live longer than three years, and surviving for five years is a rarity. However, the high mortality rate is offset by a high annual reproduction rate.

They often flee from birds of prey.

It flies low over the water making a long sound, then dives in full speed so that the predator loses sight of it.

They feed mainly on fish, which they catch by diving vertically into a river or other body of water.

They also eat aquatic insects, frogs, and crayfish. They catch their prey by flying low over the water, at a speed of up to 190 km/h.

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