The European Kingfisher: An Exceptional Fisherman!

GardenBy Jun 05, 2024

The European Kingfisher: An Exceptional Fisherman!

The European Kingfisher, scientifically known as Alcedo atthis, is a small bird belonging to the Alcedinidae family. As its name suggests, it is an exceptional fisherman who exhibits remarkable diving abilities to capture fish and other aquatic creatures for food. With its vibrant blue and orange plumage, this fascinating bird flies like a swift blue arrow over the water’s surface.

Who is the European Kingfisher?

The European Kingfisher belongs to the Coraciiformes order and the Alcedinidae family. It measures about 16 cm in length and has a wingspan of 24 cm to 26 cm. With a weight ranging from 30 g to 45 g, it is comparable in size to a sparrow. The bird is easily recognizable by its beautiful and vivid colors. Its head and tail are a bright turquoise blue, while its wings display darker shades of blue intermingled with hints of green. The cheeks and underparts are a vibrant orange-red, while the throat is white.

  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Alcedinidae
  • Genus: Alcedo
  • Species: atthis

A Masterful Fisher

The European Kingfisher is not only visually distinctive but also renowned for its exceptional fishing skills. True to its name, it is an exceptional fisherman. Often observed soaring above the water, it patiently awaits its prey before diving headfirst up to a meter deep to catch fish, insects, or amphibians using its powerful beak. It then uses its wings to propel itself out of the water and return to its perch, where it awaits its next catch.

However, witnessing this impressive bird hunting is quite rare. It mainly appears as a swift blue streak near the water’s surface. When perched, it remains motionless amid the vegetation, making it challenging to spot despite its vibrant colors. Despite its small size, the European Kingfisher is an agile bird that fiercely defends its territory.

Habitat and Diet

The European Kingfisher can be found in Europe, Asia, and along coastal areas from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Preferring tranquil environments surrounded by vegetation, such as reeds, it is commonly found near lakes, rivers, or streams teeming with small fish. It also frequents gardens with ponds. Whether natural or artificial, the bird is content as long as the water is clear enough for easy fishing.

In winter, the population of European Kingfishers that reside in the northernmost regions of Europe migrates to coastal areas, rocky shores, ports, or estuaries where they can easily find shrimp and fish for sustenance. Sedentary populations remain within their territories year-round, with young birds dispersing to facilitate gene flow among populations.

The European Kingfisher’s diet mainly consists of fish, insects, and invertebrates such as small crustaceans, amphibians, shrimp, or crabs found in the water. Species such as minnows, dace, roach, and rudd are among its preferred prey. After catching a fish with its beak, the bird strikes it against its perch before swallowing it headfirst. It regularly regurgitates pellets composed of fish bones, scales, or other indigestible parts of its meals.


The European Kingfisher breeds between the months of March and July in Europe. Generally monogamous, the couple raises an average of two or even three broods per year. Their courtship ritual, which marks the beginning of the nesting period, involves energetic aerial pursuits, alternately flying just above the water’s surface and high above the treetops. They also display from their perches, exhibiting various playful and astounding postures while emitting loud calls. This crucial ritual can extend over several hours or even days as the male presents several potential nesting sites to the female. Once the female selects a site, the male offers her a fish, signaling the end of the courtship display.

The construction of the nest commences at this point. Until the female is ready to mate, the male tirelessly provides her with food. Being a cavity-nesting species, the couple nests in a burrow along a riverbank. They often repurpose abandoned holes but will dig a sandbank if necessary, taking one to two weeks to create a high enough space to avoid flooding. The nest is typically located at the end of a burrow.

When the female is ready, she lays an average of 5 to 7 eggs, which are incubated alternately by both parents during the day, while the female does so alone at night, for approximately 20 days. The hatchlings are born naked and blind, and both adults feed them tiny fish. By the age of 10 days, they can consume their own weight in fish measuring over 3 cm each day. This rapid growth enables them to leave the nest after just 4 weeks. However, they remain near the family nest in groups for some time, honing their diving skills, while the female initiates a new brood in a fresh nest, as the first one becomes soiled with the waste and debris from the first brood. It is the male who guides the young birds toward independence.

The European Kingfisher as a Gardener’s Ally

The European Kingfisher does not pose significant disturbances in a garden unless there is an ornamental pond with small fish. Relatively timid, this bird rarely ventures into areas inhabited by humans. The species is not endangered in Europe. However, climate change and the alteration of riverbank habitats have the potential to impact this small animal’s population.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.