Common kingfisher

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The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) belongs to the family of river kingfishers, Alcedinidae.

These species of kingfishers are distributed in Indian subcontinent, North Africa, Europe, Middle East, Central and East Asia and Southeast Asia. These common kingfisher species are brightly plumaged and have compact body, short tails, large heads and long bills. There are seven recognized subspecies of the common kingfisher.

Common kingfisher - Overview

  • Scientific name: Alcedo atthis
  • Species author: (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Gracula Atthis Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Alcedinidae › Coraciiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Common kingfisher, Chinese: 普通翠鸟, French: Martin-pêcheur d’Europe, German: Eisvogel, Spanish: Martín pescador común, Russian: Обыкновенный зимородок, Japanese: カワセミ, Malay: Burung Pekaka Cit-cit
  • Other names: Eurasian Kingfisher, European Kingfisher, River Kingfisher
  • Distribution: Indian subcontinent, North Africa, Europe, Middle East, Central and East Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: fish, aquatic insects, insect larvae, crustaceans
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The common kingfisher is closely related to the cerulean kingfisher (Alcedo coerulescens), shining-blue kingfisher (Alcedo quadribrachys) and half-collared kingfisher (Alcedo semitorquata). The seven recognized subspecies of Alcedo atthis are: A. a. ispida, A. a. atthis, A. a. bengalensis, A. a. taprobana, A. a. floresiana, A. a. hispidoides and A. a. salomonensis.

Appearance, physical description and identification

The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a small bird, measuring 25 to 35 cm in length and weighing 30 to 45 grams. The wingspan is 25 cm.

The female is slightly larger than the male. It is a typical brightly plumaged river kingfisher with large head, short tail, compact body and long bill. The female differs from male in having orange-red lower mandible with a black tip. The black bill in male is reddish at the base.

The common kingfisher upperparts are greenish blue and the back and the rump are pale sky-blue. The bill base and ear region have rufous patches. The throat and the nape have whitish patch. There is a greenish blue neck strip. The breast, abdomen and rest of the underparts are rufous. The kingfisher call is a sharp whistle and repeated "chee" sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
Birds of India - Image of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis


Birds of India - Image of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
Indian birds - Photo of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis by Laitche
Indian birds - Image of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis
Birds of India - Picture of Common kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The common kingfisher is distributed in Indian subcontinent, North Africa, Europe, Middle East, Central and East Asia and Southeast Asia. The subspecies A. a. salomonensis is distributed in Nissan Island, Solomon Island, Buka Island and Bougainville Island. The subspecies A. a. hispidoides is distributed in Sulawesi Island, Moluccas Island and Papua New Guinea.

The common kingfisher subspecies A. a. floresiana is distributed in Bali, Sundas and Timor. The subspecies A. a. taprobana is distributed in South India and Sri Lanka. The common kingfisher subspecies A. a. bengalensis is distributed in India, China, Siberia, Mongolia, and Japan. It winters in Indonesia and Philippines.

The common kingfisher subspecies A. a. atthis is distributed in Northwest Africa, Spain, Europe, Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Northwest India, Siberia and China. It winters in Egypt, Sudan, Oman and Pakistan. The common kingfisher subspecies A. a. ispida is distributed in Western Europe, Russia and Romania. It winters in Portugal, North Africa, Cyprus and Iraq.

Several Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) of common kingfisher species exist in Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine.

Ecosystem and habitat

The common kingfisher species have very low forest dependency. They inhabit various ecosystems having open stagnant or slow flowing water sources with overhanging trees. They inhabit water canals, drainage canals, ditches, open aquatic excavations, aquatic ponds, aquaculture ponds, water storage lakes and ponds, urban parks with water sources and rural gardens.

The common kingfisher species also inhabit near natural water sources like rocky shoreline with perches, tide pools, estuaries, tropical and subtropical wetlands, swamps, peatlands, mangroves, flooded grasslands, freshwater lakes, rivers, waterfalls, streams and creeks.

Diet and feeding habits

The diet of these kingfisher species is mostly fish. It also feeds on aquatic insects, flies, dragonfly nymphs, mayfly nymphs, butterflies, moths, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, water beetles, prawns and shrimps. It has been observed to feed occasionally on berries and stems of reeds. It eats nearly 60% of its body weight daily.

The common kingfisher hunts from a perch, one to three meters above water. On locating the prey, it plunges steeply down and seizes the prey with its beak. Then it emerges from the water with the prey and flies to the perch. By changing position of the prey in the beak, the kingfisher holds the prey by the tail and beats it several times against the perch before swallowing it head-first.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of these kingfisher species varies greatly considering the extremely large range. The breeding season of these species is mainly from, March to June in northern and central India, February to September in southern India, January to February in Malaysia, March to July in Britain and March to August in Japan.

The male kingfisher establishes territory with display from perches and chases away competitors. Pairing forms in autumn and in spring courtship is initiated by the male by chasing and ritual feeding of the female which culminates in mating. These kingfisher species are monogamous.

The kingfisher nest is a slightly inclining burrow excavated by the pair. Two to ten glossy white eggs are laid. Both the parents take turn to incubate in the day and the female incubates in the night. The eggs hatch in 20 days and the nestlings are fed by both the parents. Two to three broods may be raised in a season.

Migration and movement patterns

These common kingfisher species are mostly migratory birds. The southern populations are resident.

The northern breeding populations in Europe, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, North Korea, South Korea and Mongolia move southwards for wintering. Post breeding dispersal of juveniles takes place. The common kingfisher may make local movements for feeding and breeding.

Conservation status and concerns

The global population size of the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is estimated to be around 780,000 to 1,340,000 individual birds. The overall population size is not known and in Europe it is considered to be slowly decreasing. In most of its ranges this kingfisher species is reported to be common and abundant. Their generation length is 4.4 years.

The common kingfisher does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable either under the range size criterion or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) and has listed it as of "Least Concern".

Taxonomy and scientific classification of Alcedo atthis
Species:A. atthis
Binomial name:Alcedo atthis
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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1.Image source:
Image author: JJ Harrison | License: CC BY 3.0
2.Image source:,_October_2015,_Osaka_III.jpg
Image author: Laitche | License: CC BY-SA 4.0
3.Image source:
Image author: Joefrei | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
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