Last updated on February 26th, 2024 at 07:42 pm

The kingfisher, a very colorful little bird with a very particular look, attracts many wildlife photographers. The colors of its plumage, its attitude and its speed make it a favorite subject for many of us.

Scientific name : Alcedo atthis
Family : Alcédinidés
Long. de 16 à 17 cm, Env. de 24 à 26 cm
Weight : de 30 à 45 gr


The kingfisher has a compact body, its short neck supports its large head extended by a pointed beak, its tail and its reduced legs. It has the head a little darker than the body, of a brilliant blue-green according to the places. A red stripe underlined by a broad blue stripe runs from the beak to the temples, above the white throat. The cheeks and belly are bright red-orange, the wings are blue-green. Scapulars and coverts show a green color with bright blue tips which contrasts with the bright cobalt blue hue of the mantle, back and rump. The undertail coverts are darker and the tail is dark blue. The chest is orange-red, the beak is black with red corners. Iris is dark brown, the legs are red.

Sexual dimorphism

The adult female is identical to the male, except for the beak: entirely black in the male, while the lower mandible is orange-red with a black tip in the female. The Kingfisher colors also have a special feature: depending on the incidence of light, the metallic blue of its plumage takes on different shades. These reflections constitute an excellent camouflage when it runs along the water.


The flight of the kingfisher is fast, direct at 40-45 km/h. It often flies over streams at water level. It uses gliding flight only over short distances, especially in the few seconds before accessing the perch.


The kingfisher is a loner. As an adult, it defends its territory. Most often it is a stretch of watercourse or stretch of water approximately one kilometer long.

Regime Diet

He who feeds on small fish and small aquatic animals. For this, it roams its territory by landing on the perches it knows, well placed to watch for its prey. If its position is high enough, it dives straight down. It also quickly emerges from the water thanks to the Archimedean thrust resulting from the air trapped under its plumage. Its attempt rewarded, it lands and begins to stun its prey by beating it on its branch with alternating head movements. Then it swallows it head first, so that the fins offer no resistance. Sometimes circumstances force him to throw the fish in the air to catch it in the right position.


The kingfisher nests in a burrow usually dug in the bank of a watercourse. Courtship precedes nesting. Courtship displays include noisy aerial chases. Both mates sometimes fly low to the surface of the water, sometimes above the tops of riverside trees. It can last for long hours and normally ends when the male presents a site to the female. The female lays six or seven eggs. The laying occurs from April to July. Both adults take turns brooding and feeding the young. After about 4 weeks, the young leave the nest and are quickly able to feed themselves. Male and female separate in winter. However, each continues to defend a part of the common territory, in a less aggressive way however.


This bird benefits from total protection on French territory since the ministerial decree of April 17, 1981 relating to birds protected throughout the territory. The Kingfisher is listed in Annex I of the European Union Birds Directive. This species, considered vulnerable, is on the IUCN France and Europe red list.


The kingfisher has a very shrill ‘tchiii’ call. Before even seeing the bird, it is often by its usual cry that we spot it.

Spotting the Kingfisher

To spot the Kingfisher, it is essential to know its biotope well. Start by locating water points: rivers, lakes and ponds, in the places you plan to visit. All wet places with fresh water and likely to contain fish can be visited by the bird. For rivers, look for places where the water is calm. The Kingfisher does not fish in waters that are too rough or boiling, because he cannot see the fish.
Another important point for spotting the bird, and essential for it, are perches. Often they are tree branches. But in the Camargue I happened to see Martin on fence posts at the edge of the marshes, or even on a simple reed. The height of these perches varies greatly (80cm to 2 meters).
During a fishing session, the Kingfisher travels through its territory (portion of watercourse). He will position himself on different perches that he has already spotted. If you see him leaving or running away from a perch, be patient, you are likely to see him return to the same perch after a longer or shorter time.

Photograph the kingfisher

To photograph the Kingfisher, a blind is almost essential. You have little chance of photographing it in billebaud. At least a camouflage net can allow you to blend into the vegetation depending on the consistency of the area. The Kingfisher has excellent eyesight and is very wary. Avoid using a device that is too noisy in burst mode. Hybrid cameras (such as my Nikon Z9) have the advantage of being completely silent even in high burst mode. If you are a Kingfisher landing on a perch that you have previously spotted, wait a short moment before triggering. Initially after landing, the bird will observe the surroundings and be very vigilant. If you rush to the trigger of your noisy SLR, it will quickly run away.

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