The smallest of the kingfishers to be found in most of its range, has a long bill, and is blue-green above and orange below.Size 15-16 cm with a wingspan 23-25 cm.
The flash of iridescent blue as this Kingfisher flies along a river is an exciting experience. Male nominate race rufous loral spot, black eyestripe, rufous ear coverts, white neckstripe. Crown and malarstripe barred blue and black. Upperparts and tail brilliant azure-blue, wings dark greenish-blue with paler blue spots. White chin and throat, rufous underparts. Bill black, gape red, iris dark brown, legs and feet orange red.
Distinguished from similar small Alcedo species by rufous ear coverts. Female like male, but lower mandible orange-red with black tip.
Race bengalensis smaller, brighter and ispida slightly larger, bluer crown, darker rufous underparts. Race taprobanasimilar in size to previous, but upperparts bright blue, and floresiana darker blues on uppperparts, some blue feathers on rufous ear coverts. Race hispidoides ear coverts blue, purple tinges on hindneck and rump and salomonensis ear coverts blue, more extensive purple-blue upperparts.
Usually still or gently flowing water with plentiful small fish, and with reeds, rushes or shrubs on the banks for perches, are essential aspects of the habitat. Small rivers, streams, canals and ditches preferred to open waterbodies, but sometimes uses lakes, ponds and flooded gravel pits. In winter becomes more coastal, frequenting also estuaries, and rocky seashores.
Alcedo atthis is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which accounts for less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is relatively
small (<160,000 pairs), and underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990. Although the species was broadly stable overall during 1990-2000-with stable, fluctuating or increasing trends across the vast majority of Europe-its population has not yet recovered to the level that preceded its decline.
The kingfisher is present throughout most of Europe except for in Northern Scandinavia, as it is dependent on fresh water during the whole year. Their area of circulation stretches to Northern Africa, and all the way to Japan in the East. The kingfisher is highly endangered in Austria. The Danube Floodplains National Park East of Vienna, and the Pielach in Lower Austria are its central zones.
The European kingfisher, although widespread, is endangered or even threatened by extinction. The massive development and regulations of our flowing bodies of water (about 30.000 km since 1950) are constricting the kingfisher's habitat and spawning opportunities daily. Over the past years, it appears that the birds are switching to stagnant waters, as vertical walls can no longer be developed from the banks.
This bird inhabits rivers, small streams, ponds, lakes and reservoirs in a major part of Europe, northern Africa and Asia. All populations are strongly subjected to fluctuations according to climatic condition prevailing during the breeding season and the winter period as well. Nevertheless this species is threatened on the long-term by transformation and pollution of its habitats. The population in the European Union (not including former USSR countries) can be estimated at 20000-50000 breeding pairs.
Main diet based on fish, include roach, trout, roach grayling, barbel, carp and many other species. Also takes aquatic insects, also flies, butterflies, amphibians, crayfish, prawns, shrimps and isopods in winter. Very occasionally feeds on berries and stems of reed. Perches for long periods, usually 1-2 m above the water, periodically turning around and bobbing head and body to gauge distance when food sighted. Dives steeply and catches prey below water to maximum depth of 1 m. Using its buoyancy and flapping the wings.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km˛. It has a large global population, including an estimated 160,000-320,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but populations appear to be stable so the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
Egg laying starts March-July in Britain, May in Sweden, March-May in Morocco and Iraq, March-June in India, March-August in Japan and in January in Papua.
Common Kingfishers are Monogamous, solitary breeders. The territory is defended by calling in flight and by displaying from perch, where it sits quietly, crouches and stretches, swaying body from side to side, bill agape and wings drooping, before chasing off and intruder.
Nest usually in sandy, stone-free streamside bank, quarry, sandpit, peat catting or earth bank, occasionally in hole in wall, rotten tree stump. Both sexes take part in the excavation which taking 1-2 weeks. The tunnel is straight and usually 50-100 cm long. Clutch size is 6-7 eggs, both sexes incubate during day, but only female at night for a period of 19-21 days. During extreme winters the species suffers grave losses. This kind of loss has been quickly bridged by several incubation periods, within a year's time.
Northern populations, in areas where freezing conditions in winter, regularly migrates South, generally staying within species' breeding range. Populations in Central Europe migrate in severe winters, and South populations (e.g. in Spain) are mainly sedentary. Distance moved varies, up to 250 km in Britain, 500 km in France and Belgium, 1500 km in Czechoslovakia, to 3000 km in Russia. Non-breeding birds present in North Africa September-April and in Sudan October-April. Migrates mainly at night and pronounced movements evident along Mediterranean shores. May form small flocks during migration. Wintering birds establish territories, and juveniles may stay together as pairs or groups.