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How to spot a kingfisher

Welcome to our latest Feadon Farm blog instalment by Gary Zammit

The kingfisher is quite rightly referred to as the jewel of the river and considered to be one of Britain’s most beautiful native birds. At first sight, this stunning bird is viewed as a blaze of turquoise blue as it flashes by but on closer inspection the kingfisher features a an abundance of bright orange contrasted with their white throat and black bill. A small and colourful bird, the average kingfisher size is somewhere between the scale of a robin and a blackbird.

This amazing little bird is, as the name implies, highly skilled at fishing with their main diet consisting of small fish, sometimes supplemented with aquatic insects, freshwater shrimps and tadpoles. Their hunting method usually involves flying along the bank of a lake, river or stream, frequently landing on low overhanging vegetation before plummeting head first into the water to seize an unsuspecting fish. This food source is then taken to a favourite perch where it is bashed against the branch to subdue the fish before being swallowed or fed to the hen or hungry chicks. Each bird must eat at least its own bodyweight in fish everyday.

Nesting in riverbanks, the kingfisher digs a tunnel up to 90cm deep where they lay between 5 and 7 eggs. These eggs are then incubated for 19 to 21 days and once hatched, the chicks remain in the nest for a further 25 to 36 days depending on the food availability. These plucky baby birds are only fed for a few days after fledging, which is a pretty steep learning curve for any young bird let alone one that has to master the art of fishing to survive. Only 50% of the young make it to adulthood.

If you want to observe kingfishers, they can be seen relatively easily along our estuaries, streams and lakes – however they are shy, so it takes a bit of effort and patience. As they are territorial, if you can find a good possible location, just sit and observe. You can also boost your chances by learning their call, as once you know this it will make spotting them so much easier. In fact learning the basic call of many shy species will increase your chance of spotting them. Last winter we had pair hunting daily along the edge of the fishing lake here at Landal Gwel an Mor and whilst fishing by a lake in Devon, I also observed one.

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