Have you ever seen a kingfisher? Sadly, I haven’t. To see them you would have to be near some slow moving water where they make their homes and, despite occasionally venturing onto canals or walking beside rivers, I haven’t had the pleasure. What do we know about these gloriously colourful British birds? Let’s take a look…
If you are ever lucky enough to see a kingfisher perched by the waterside, the first thing you will notice is the almost glittering blue feathers on its back. You will also see red/orange see on its belly. The next thing you’ll notice is its large head and long, sword-like bill. The kingfisher uses these to catch its prey.
The perched kingfisher is usually on the lookout for its dinner. When he eyes a potential catch his head will start moving around. This helps him to judge the distance and position of whatever he has seen. Keep a close eye on the kingfisher if you see him doing this – he is about to strike. Flying from the perch, the kingfisher will dive into the water and emerge with a small fish which he will return to the waterside and stun before swallowing head first!
Kingfishers are fishers by name, and also by nature, but from time to time they will eat other things. Insects, shrimp and frogs are also on the menu. And during harsh winters when food is scarce, they have also been known to visit bird tables in our gardens. They won’t eat seeds or nuts but animal fat goes down a treat. You might also see them in your garden if you have a pond but it would have to be a big one and be full of aquatic insects or small fish.
Kingfishers don’t nest in trees like most birds. Instead males and females together dig tunnels in a riverbank where the eggs are laid. These tunnels are around a metre long so digging them must be hard work for such a small animal. But they take parenting seriously and both mum and dad incubate the eggs and feed the young once they have hatched.
Kingfishers have a place in our folklore. The term ‘halcyon days’, which means calm and peaceful times, comes from them. Halcyon is another name for the kingfisher and in ancient times it was believed that they could calm rough waters. This probably comes from the fact that kingfishers live by slow-moving water. One other legend stated that a kingfisher’s body, if hung on a string, would point in the same direction as the wind. In the Middle Ages killing kingfishers to use as weather vanes was quite common.
Thankfully such superstitious nonsense has gone the way of other cruel and ignorant beliefs. In fact, because water pollution has decreased due to environmental laws, kingfisher numbers are on the rise. Hopefully that means that we’ll all get a chance to see one of the beautiful birds close to home.
If you want to know more about kingfishers then I recommend the RSPB website. It has lots of information about the behaviour of and threats to the kingfisher. And if you like birds in general then why not look at the Nature section of our site? There you’ll find quizzes on all kinds of birds, from auks to warblers! Not only that, we also have quizzes on mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, trees, flowers, minerals… even on outer space! And, they’re all free to play, so go and test your natural knowledge today!