Bird O'clock

10 Fascinating Facts about the Common Kingfisher

The Cattle Egret, or Bubulcus ibis, is a widespread bird species that belongs to the Ardeidae family. It is a small, white bird that is often seen foraging in open fields.

While it may not be as visually striking as other bird species, the Cattle Egret is fascinating in its own right. This article will take a closer look at the identification, plumages, and molts of the Cattle Egret.


Field Identification

In the field, the Cattle Egret can be identified by its size, shape, and coloration. It is a small bird, measuring around 18 inches in length, with a wingspan of 35 inches.

Its body is compact and stocky, with a relatively short neck compared to other herons and egrets. The bill is relatively short and yellow, with a black tip.

The eyes are also yellow. The plumage of the Cattle Egret is predominantly white, with some rufous features during its breeding season.

When viewed in good light, a distinctive yellow or buff coloration can be seen on the crown, back, and breast. The legs are dark and sometimes tinged with green.

Similar Species

The Cattle Egret can be easily distinguished from other herons and egrets by its smaller size, yellow bill, and white plumage. It is commonly mistaken for other white herons, including the Snowy Egret and Little Egret.

However, the Cattle Egret has a shorter neck, a stockier build, and a different bill shape.


The plumage of the Cattle Egret changes depending on the season and the bird’s age. During its breeding season, the Cattle Egret develops rufous feathers on its head, neck, and back.

These feathers are more predominant in males during their courtship display. Juvenile Cattle Egrets have a different plumage compared to adults.

They have a brownish-gray plumage, with buff-colored feather edges. The bill is black rather than yellow.

At around six months of age, juvenile Cattle Egrets start to molt, and their feathers gradually change to white.


The molting process of the Cattle Egret is gradual and continuous. The timing of molting varies, but it generally occurs after the breeding season and during the non-breeding season.

Cattle Egrets have a prebasic molt, which happens in the fall after the breeding season. During this molt, the birds replace their breeding plumage with non-breeding plumage.

The timing of molt varies depending on location and climate. Cattle Egrets also have a prealternate molt, which happens before the breeding season.

During this molt, the birds replace their non-breeding plumage with breeding plumage. The timing of this molt also varies depending on location and climate.


In conclusion, the Cattle Egret is a small, white heron species that can be found in many regions around the world. Its distinctive yellow bill and compact, stocky build make it easy to identify in the field.

The Cattle Egret has a unique plumage that changes depending on the season and the bird’s age. Understanding the identification, plumages, and molts of the Cattle Egret can help birdwatchers appreciate and enjoy this fascinating species even more.

Systematics History

The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a small, colorful bird species that is widely distributed across Eurasia and northern Africa. This bird species belongs to the Alcedinidae family, which consists of 19 extant species of kingfishers.

Geographic Variation

The common kingfisher is a highly variable species, with different populations having distinct morphological and genetic characteristics. Variations such as size, coloration, and behavior have been observed across the species’ wide distribution range, which extends from Iceland in the west to Papua New Guinea in the east.


Based on these variations, several subspecies of the common kingfisher have been recognized. The nominate subspecies, Alcedo atthis atthis, is found in western Europe, while the subspecies A.

a. ispida is found in central and eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

A. a.

bengalensis is found in south Asia, and A. a.

taprobana is found in Sri Lanka. A.

a. floresiana is found in Indonesia, while A.

a. hispidoides is found in New Guinea.

Related Species

The common kingfisher is closely related to other members of the Alcedinidae family, including the African pygmy kingfisher (Ispidina picta), the Oriental dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca), and the grandala (Grandala coelicolor). These species share similar physical and behavioral characteristics, such as their small size, brightly colored plumage, and insectivorous diets.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Over the course of its history, the common kingfisher has undergone significant changes in its distribution and abundance. During the last glacial period, which ended around 11,700 years ago, the species was restricted to a few pockets of suitable habitat in southern Europe and North Africa.

As temperatures warmed at the end of the ice age, the common kingfisher gradually expanded its range northwards, recolonizing areas that had previously been uninhabitable. Human activities have also had a significant impact on the distribution of the common kingfisher.

Deforestation, urbanization, and pollution have all led to the loss and fragmentation of the species’ habitat, threatening its survival in many parts of its range. In some areas, the construction of dams and the regulation of river flows have reduced the availability of suitable nesting sites and fish prey, further reducing the common kingfisher’s population size.

Efforts to conserve the common kingfisher have focused on the protection and restoration of suitable habitat, particularly along rivers and wetlands. Key conservation measures include the creation of protected areas, the restoration of degraded habitats, and the implementation of sustainable management practices in areas surrounding the species’ range.

In conclusion, the common kingfisher is a highly variable species with distinct geographic variations and multiple recognized subspecies. The species is closely related to other members of the Alcedinidae family and has undergone significant changes in distribution over its history.

Human activities have had a substantial impact on the distribution and abundance of the common kingfisher, necessitating significant efforts for conservation and habitat restoration to ensure the survival of this beautiful and important bird species.


The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a widespread bird species found across Eurasia and northern Africa. The species is highly dependent on freshwater habitats, such as streams, rivers, ponds, and wetlands.

Within these habitats, the common kingfisher is most commonly found in areas with clear water and suitable perches. The common kingfisher uses a variety of habitats throughout its range, including natural and human-made waterways.

In some areas, the species is found in coastal habitats, such as estuaries and mangroves. The species is also known to inhabit open forested habitats, such as riparian forests, where there are adequate perches for hunting.

Movements and Migration

The common kingfisher is generally a non-migratory species, with individuals remaining within their home ranges throughout the year. However, some populations of the species do engage in limited seasonal movements.

In colder climates, such as in northern Europe and Asia, common kingfishers may move southwards during the winter in search of warmer weather and more abundant food supplies. These movements may be short-distance, with individuals traveling only a few dozen kilometers, or long-distance, with individuals traveling hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.

In contrast, individuals living in warmer regions may engage in local movements to adjust to changes in habitat conditions, such as shifts in food availability and water levels. These movements are often more flexible and may occur on a daily or weekly basis.

Although the common kingfisher is largely a non-migratory species, studies have shown that the species is capable of long-distance dispersal. In some cases, individuals have been known to travel thousands of kilometers from their breeding sites to establish new territories.

Such movements may occur in response to habitat loss or competition, or simply as a result of individuals exploring new areas. During breeding season, the common kingfisher may exhibit territorial behavior, with males defending their breeding territories against rivals.

Territorial defense may involve vocalizations, displays, and physical confrontations with other birds. The common kingfisher has a complex nesting behavior that may also involve movements.

During the breeding season, pairs of birds will establish a breeding territory, which they will defend against other conspecifics. The pair will then construct a nest, which may be located in a riverbank, a cliff, or another suitable site near water.

After the eggs are laid, one or both parents will incubate them until they hatch. The chicks are then fed by both parents until they are old enough to leave the nest.

In conclusion, the common kingfisher is a highly adaptable bird species that is found in a variety of habitats across Eurasia and northern Africa. The species is largely non-migratory, although some populations may engage in seasonal movements.

During the breeding season, pairs of birds establish and defend territories, and the species exhibits a complex nesting behavior. Understanding the movements and habitat requirements of the common kingfisher is critical to managing and conserving the species and its freshwater habitats.

Diet and Foraging

The common kingfisher’s (Alcedo atthis) primary diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects. To capture their prey, these birds perch on a branch or other suitable perch located above the water’s surface, scanning the water until they spot potential prey.

They may also hover above the water surface, using their sharp eyesight to detect movement below.


Once prey is spotted, the common kingfisher will dive headfirst into the water, using their wings to propel themselves deeper into the water column. Kingfishers are well adapted to swimming and diving, with special air sacs located below their feathers that act as a buoyancy aid.

Once they reach their target, they grasp the prey in their sharp beaks and quickly return to the surface to swallow their catch. The common kingfisher’s foraging behavior can be influenced by a variety of factors, including water clarity, habitat structure, and fish abundance.

A changing climate, which can affect stream flow and water levels, may also impact the birds’ foraging behavior.


The common kingfisher’s diet is highly dependent on the availability of prey in their environment. Small fish, such as minnows and sticklebacks, form the majority of their diet.

Crustaceans, including freshwater shrimps, are also commonly consumed. The birds also supplement their diet with aquatic insects, such as beetles and dragonflies.

During periods of low food availability, the common kingfisher may switch to other food sources, such as terrestrial invertebrates. The birds have been observed catching and consuming earthworms, grasshoppers, and spiders.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The common kingfisher’s ability to hunt and swim in cold water is related to their metabolic and temperature regulation strategies. These birds have high levels of metabolic activity, which is necessary to maintain a core body temperature of 40C, even in cold water.

Kingfishers also have a unique physiological adaptation that allows them to minimize heat loss while diving. They have a special circulatory system that diverts blood away from the body peripheries, reducing heat loss through their skin.

This adaptation allows them to continue diving and foraging in cold temperatures, even when other bird species would experience thermal stress.

Sounds and Vocal


Like many bird species, the common kingfisher relies heavily on vocalizations for communication. The species is known for its unique calls, which are high-pitched, sharp, and distinctive.

These calls may be used to signal alarm, establish territory, attract mates, or locate prey.


Several vocalizations have been documented in the common kingfisher, with each call serving a different purpose. Some common calls include a trill, a copulation call, and various contact calls.

The trill is the common kingfisher’s most distinctive call, consisting of a series of high-pitched, piping notes that are often repeated in quick succession. The trill may be used to signal alarm, mark territory, or locate a mate.

The copulation call is a softer, more melodic call used specifically during breeding season to communicate with mates. Contact calls are lower-pitched and gruffer in nature, used to communicate with other birds for a variety of purposes.

In conclusion, the common kingfisher’s diet and foraging habits are closely tied to their physiology and their ability to regulate body temperature. The birds rely heavily on vocalizations to communicate and have a unique repertoire of calls, each with a specific purpose.

Understanding the species’ foraging behavior and vocalizations is key to managing and protecting these beautiful birds in their freshwater habitats.


The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a highly active bird species that displays a wide variety of behaviors related to locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.


The common kingfisher is primarily adapted for an aquatic lifestyle, with most of its locomotion occurring while swimming and diving. The birds are capable of diving up to a depth of 1 meter, and can stay submerged for up to 30 seconds.

To dive efficiently and avoid injury, they have a flexible neck that can rotate up to 270 degrees, allowing them to adjust their vision as they dive.

Self Maintenance

Like many bird species, the common kingfisher has a variety of self-maintenance behaviors, including preening, bathing, and sunning. Preening helps to keep feathers in good condition, while bathing helps to remove dirt and parasites.

Sunning behavior involves sitting in direct sunlight to warm up and dry off after bathing. Agonistic


The common kingfisher displays agonistic behavior when defending territories or dealing with intruders.

When threatened, the birds will use a variety of aggressive behaviors, such as wing flapping and vocalizations, to intimidate rivals. If necessary, physical aggression such as pecking or biting may be used to defend the territory.



Common kingfisher breeding pairs typically form monogamous relationships that persist throughout the breeding season. During courtship, males will display various courtship rituals, including chasing, presenting food, and vocalizing.

Mating usually takes place in the breeding cavity, with both birds taking an active role in incubating and feeding the eggs and chicks.


Common kingfishers breed during the spring and summer months, with breeding pairs selecting a suitable breeding cavity in which to raise their young. The birds will excavate a burrow in a riverbank, using their bills and claws to dig out a nesting cavity.

Once the cavity is complete, the birds will line it with feathers, moss, and other soft materials to provide comfort and insulation. Females typically lay between 5 and 7 eggs, with both parents taking an active role in incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.

Incubation typically lasts around 20 days, with chicks hatching in early summer. Both parents take turns feeding the chicks, with regurgitated fish forming the majority of their diet.

The chicks fledge after around 2025 days, but may remain near the nest for several weeks while they learn to forage and hunt for themselves.

Demography and Populations

Common kingfishers are widely distributed birds, with populations found throughout much of Eurasia and northern Africa. The global population is estimated at around 1.5 million individuals, with the species listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Despite its stable population size, the common kingfisher is still impacted by various conservation threats.

Habitat loss and degradation resulting from human activities, such as deforestation, construction of dams and other hydroelectric infrastructure, and urbanization, is one of the biggest threats to the species.

Climate change and pollution can also negatively affect the birds’ foraging and breeding habitats. Conservation efforts to protect the common kingfisher and its habitat include the restoration of degraded or destroyed wetland areas, the creation of protected areas, and the implementation of sustainable management practices around the species’ range.

By maintaining healthy freshwater habitats and mitigating the effects of human impact on these areas, it is possible to secure the future for this beautiful and beloved bird species. In conclusion, the common kingfisher is a highly adaptable and fascinating bird species that displays a variety of behaviors related to foraging, mating, self-maintenance, and agonistic behavior.

Its range extends across much of Eurasia and northern Africa, with populations occupying a variety of aquatic habitats. Despite facing numerous conservation threats, including habitat loss and degradation, the common kingfisher’s stable population size suggests that conservation efforts have been successful in protecting these beloved birds.

Understanding the behavior and habitat requirements of common kingfishers is critical to the continued survival of this species and the health of freshwater ecosystems upon which they rely.

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