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Bird of the Week – Common Kingfisher

26 October 2010 No Comment

The Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a small kingfisher with seven subspecies recognized within its wide distribution across Eurasia and North Africa. It is also known as Eurasian Kingfisher or River Kingfisher. It is resident in much of its range, but migrates from areas where rivers freeze in winter. They are important members of ecosystems and good indicators of freshwater community health.

In Kerala with 44 main rivers and countless other water bodies, this species is a common resident here. It feeds mainly on fish, caught by diving, and has special visual adaption to enable it to see prey under water.

Size and Colorization

Common Kingfisher
This is a sparrow-sized bird with 17 cm in length and weighs around 30g.

This has bright blue upperparts, orange underparts and a long bill; has the typical short-tailed, large-headed kingfisher profile. Their wings and the tail are bright blue in colour. They have also a blue head with the white mark on either side of it. Legs are short and in orange colour. The wings and tails are short while its bill is long and pointed.

The flight of the Kingfisher is fast, direct and usually low over water. The short rounded wings whirr rapidly, and a bird flying away shows an electric-blue “flash” down its back.


Common Kingfishers usually mate during the spring season. Male initiates the courtship by chasing the female while calling continually and later with offering fishes in their beaks. The females lay 6 – 7 eggs. Eggs are incubated for about 20 days. Fledging period rests from 23 -27 days. They do-not build nests on branches. They usually build small burrows excavated on a lower vertical riverbank or in an old style well. They place their eggs on a litter of fish bones and disgorged pellets. Both the male and female bring food for the young and take care of them. Young ones are somewhat blue to pale red in colour.


Common Kingfisher prefers to live near streams, slow flowing rivers, ponds and lakes. Like all kingfishers, the Common Kingfishers is highly territorial; since it must eat around 60% of its body weight each day, it is essential to have control a suitable stretch of river. It is solitary for most of the year, roosting alone in heavy cover. If another kingfisher enters its territory, both birds display from perches, and fights may occur, where a bird will grab the other’s beak and try to hold it under water.


Common kingfisher feeds on aquatic insects, small fish and prawns. They mostly hunt during early morning or evening hours.


The Common kingfisher has no song. The flight call is a short sharp whistle, chee, repeated two or three times. Anxious birds emit a harsh, shrit-it-it and nestlings call for food with a churring noise.

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