6 kingfisher facts you need to know

Discover 6 fascinating facts about the BTO August Bird of the Month.

© John Dunn/BTO


1. Superb fisherman

If you’re lucky enough to see a kingfisher on its perch, watch it closely. Once it has spotted its prey a kingfisher will  bob its head up and down to gauge the position of the fish. The bird then dives into the water with its wings open, and its eyes protected by transparent eyelids. Once the fish is caught, it is taken back to the perch where the kingfisher usually stuns it before swallowing it head first. 

2. Urban expansion

Thanks to improving water quality within our rivers and lakes, populations of small fish, including minnows and sticklebacks, have been flourishing. This has allowed kingfishers to move into some more urban areas, including central London.

3. Smelly tunnels 

Kingfishers nest in burrows, usually in soft riverbanks. The nest tunnels can be up to 140cm long, ending in a nesting chamber, and can take many days to create. Despite this, they have up to three broods a year and will use a different nest each time as, once the young have fledged, the tunnel is usually full of decomposing fish!

4. Grisly behaviour

In days gone by, there used to be an unpleasant custom that involved people killing kingfishers and hanging their bodies on a string outside a house. The theory was that the kingfishers’ beak would point in the direction that the weather was moving in, acting as a weather vane.

Kingfishers fish from a perch, giving you a good opportunity to admire their iridescent plumage. © Brian Todd/BTO

5. Garden visitor? 

Despite not being a typical garden bird, if you have a pond and live near a larger waterway, you may be lucky enough to attract kingfishers into your garden. They will even come to bird tables in particularly harsh winters when the water freezes over, and have been known to take offal, suet and even bread.

6. Winter woes

Due to the lack of food during harsh winters, kingfishers can suffer severe mortality and population crashes. However, they can recover quickly as they have up to three broods per season and up to six chicks per brood. They are still listed as an Amber species due to their status across Europe. 

7. Tell the difference

Kingfishers are seen as a flash of blue in flight. If you are lucky enough to see one perching you will notice the orange-red plumage underneath and their dark, dagger-like bill. Females and males can cautiously be told apart, as females have a reddish base to their lower mandible. 

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org

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