The Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is also known as Eurasian Kingfisher, or River Kingfisher. This sparrow-sized bird has the typical short-tailed, large-headed kingfisher profile; it has blue upperparts, orange underparts and a long bill. This species has the typical short-tailed, dumpy-bodied large-headed and long-billed kingfisher shape. The adult male of the western European subspecies, A. a. ispida has green-blue upperparts with pale azure-blue back and rump, a rufous patch by the bill base, and a rufous ear-patch. It has a green-blue neck stripe, white neck blaze and throat, rufous underparts, and a black bill with some red at the base. The legs and feet are bright red. It is about 16 centimetres (6.3 in) long with a wingspan of 25 cm (9.8 in), and weighs 34-46 grams (1.2-1.6 oz). The female is identical in appearance to the male except that her lower mandible is orange-red with a black tip. The juvenile is similar to the adult, but with duller and greener upperparts and paler underparts. Its bill is black, and the legs are also initially black. 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.
Habitat and Distribution
The Common Kingfisher is widely distributed over Europe, Asia, and North Africa, mainly south of 60?N. It is a common breeding species over much of its vast Eurasian range, but in North Africa it is mainly a winter visitor, although it is a scarce breeding resident in coastal Morocco and Tunisia. In temperate regions, this kingfisher inhabits clear, slow-flowing streams and rivers, and lakes with well-vegetated banks. It frequents scrubs and bushes with overhanging branches close to shallow open water in which it hunts. In winter it is more coastal, often feeding in estuaries or harbours and along rocky seashores. Tropical populations are found by slow-flowing rivers, in mangrove creeks and in swamps.
The Common Kingfisher hunts from a perch 1-2 m (3-6 ft) above the water, on a branch, post or riverbank, bill pointing down as it searches for prey. It bobs its head when food is detected to gauge the distance, and plunges steeply down to seize its prey usually no deeper than 25 cm (10 in) below the surface. The wings are opened under water and the open eyes are protected by the transparent third eyelid. The bird rises beak-first from the surface and flies back to its perch. At the perch the fish is adjusted until it is held near its tail and beaten against the perch several times. Once dead, the fish is positioned lengthways and swallowed head-first. A few times each day, a small greyish pellet of fish bones and other indigestible remains is regurgitated.
The courtship is initiated by the male chasing the female while calling continually, and later by ritual feeding, copulation usually following. The nest is in a burrow excavated by both birds of the pair in a low vertical riverbank, or sometimes a quarry or other cutting. The straight, gently inclining burrow is normally 60-90 cm (24-36 in) long and ends in an enlarged chamber. The nest cavity is unlined but soon accumulates a litter of fish remains and cast pellets. The Common Kingfisher typically lays five to seven (range two to ten) glossy white eggs, which average 1.9 cm (0.75 in) in breadth, 2.2 cm (0.87 in) in length, and weigh about 4.3 g (0.15 oz), of which 5% is shell. One or two eggs in most clutches fail to hatch because the parent cannot cover them. Both sexes incubate by day, but only the female at night. An incubating bird sits trance-like, facing the tunnel; it invariably casts a pellet, breaking it up with the bill. The eggs hatch in 19-20 days, and the altricial young are in the nest for a further 24-25 days, often more. Once large enough, young birds will come to the burrow entrance to be fed. Two broods, sometimes three, may be reared in a season.
Calls and Songs
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.