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Feature Creature - Kingfisher

Credits: Steve Waterhouse

These bright blue jewels are one of the most colourful animals to be found in the UK, yet can be hard to spot along rivers and waterways - it's of course the kingfisher! Winter can be one of the best times to look out for them.

Fantastic facts:


*Favourite foods: minnows, sticklebacks and other small fish


*Enemies: mink, water pollution, very cold weather     *Life span: up to 4 years


*Call: a high-pitched peeping often heard as the bird flies over the water


*Latin name: Alcedo atthis (alcedo = kingfisher, atthis = beautiful young woman of legend)


But what are these beautiful birds and what can they do? Kingfishers are:


Great fishermen


With their long, dagger-like beak, kingfishers have the perfect harpoon to help them spear their prey. They prefer to hunt over still or slow moving water using a favourte perch to scan the shallows for small fish. They rely on their eyesight to help them accurately target a fish, then dive beneath the surface to catch it.


A bit like ducks and other waterbirds, the feathers of a kingfisher are smeared with a special preen oil that helps to keep them waterproof when diving for fish. After any activity that might make feathers dirty, like digging a nest burrow in a sandy bank, they always take a quick bath to keep their feathers in good condition.







Skilled fishmongers 


After snatching a fish, the kingfisher returns to its perch, shaking water droplets from its bright feathers. Live, wriggly fish can make a difficult meal, so the bird first bashes it against its perch. Sharp scales and fins are then removed by scraping the fish against the perch to rub them off.


Fish are then swallowed head-first to make sure they slip down easily! Males will sometimes give their mates gifts of fish during the breeding season. Parents will also hand fish over to their youngsters. They are careful to turn the fish round the right way when they do this. Aww!




From autumn through to the winter, kingfishers are on the move. Youngsters leave home to find territories of their own and can often turn up in gardens, stopping off at ponds in the hope of a quick snack.


During very cold weather when inland waters can freeze, many kingfishers move towards the coast to find free flowing water. When snow and ice lasts for long periods of time, many kingfishers struggle to hunt and find enough food. 


Did you know? 


- Kingfishers produce pellets just like owls and other birds of prey. This helps them to get rid of fish bones, scales and grit after swallowing ther prey whole.


- Growing youngsters need around 100 fish a day from their hard-working parents.


- Male kingfishers have an all black beak, whereas females look like they're wearing red lipstick on the bottom half of theirs! 


Credits: Kingfisher on bulrush by Robert Lewis / Kingfisher with fish by Steve Waterhouse