Common kingfisher, female

Encounter – Common Kingfisher

The head-turner
The head-turner
It was early days when I still hadn’t started birding seriously. A fun trip with some friends to Edamuri falls, near Mysore, more of a ‘get your feet wet’ trip. As we stood along the shore of the irrigation channel, taking off our footwear to drench our feet, I heard a sharp trill. My eyes caught a fast-moving blur of dazzling blue and orange to our right, above the canal.
It was a Eurasian kingfisher, alias common kingfisher- Alcedo atthis. It flew close to the surface, wings barely visible from the wing-flapping, in a wavy, almost sinusoidal, path. For a moment I couldn’t help envying the bird – I’d have loved to see the water and the world rush past at such a dizzying pace, more or less like what a fighter pilot would see from his cockpit. Seconds later, it climbed upwards at a mini-waterfall and disappeared amid reeds.
And I let out the breath I was holding.
Common kingfisher, female
A gorgeous female on the lookout
The atthis in the binomial name takes after a beautiful Greek maiden, and she wouldn’t probably hold a grudge at that. One long look at the common kingfisher can electrify you. It has iridescent blue spots all over the crown and on the wings and a blue mane of feathers along the spine (which look like strands of electricity). Pretty orange undersides and orange-red feet add to the flash. In the female, the orange lower mandible, with  a black tip, adds to the splash of colors (it is black in the male).
The Male, through the foliage.
The male through foliage. Notice the black lower mandible.

I have seen them along lakes, agricultural channels, tiny streams and major rivers like Cauvery – most often on perches a few feet above water. Numerous times have I seen one dart down from its perch headlong, reverse its trajectory underwater, and come up with tiny fish in its beak. My limited photographic capabilities have not been able to do justice to its agility, for all I have been able to capture are the moments when it was perched, in between dives.

Perched with intent
This is how you would find them most of the times - on low perches.

The dive is another masterclass. From modest perches over water, it spots a fish below – and generally the perches are not too far away to facilitate an ambush.  In a flash it dives. It goes head first, snaps the fish between its mandibles and U-turns, emerging headfirst. Usually the fish would be just as big as the beak. Returning to the perch, it thrashes the fish on the hardest part of the perch, repeatedly, like a washerman pounding linen on a large concrete slab. Bones pulverized, the fish is swallowed.

Common Kingfishers are dependent on mud banks of water bodies to nest, and the greatest threat they face is loss of habitat due to urbanization. As with all birds that have ‘common’ in their name, these tiny jewels are fast disappearing as wetlands fall prey to developers.


2 thoughts on “Encounter – Common Kingfisher

  1. ooh!! beautiful pics!!! its always amazing to watch a kingfisher at work.. we see the white throated one all the time, but this one i got a glimpse of just once… the pied kingfisher is another beautiful one i love to see gliding just over the surface of water…

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