A dazzling personality: the kingfisher is our bird of the year

Even if its name might suggest otherwise, the kingfisher is no friend of freezing temperatures. In our short portrait you will learn everything else you need to know about this extraordinary animal.

The plumage of the kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is one of the most spectacular to be seen in Central Europe. The bright blue that dominates the bird’s head and wings harmonises perfectly with the orange-red belly of the animal, and the white patches of plumage reminiscent of small ice floes round off the impressive overall impression. It was not without reason that the kingfisher became a star in Germany in the 1990s, when it became an extremely popular guest on domestic TV screens as the protagonist of a beer company’s TV commercial.

Fast as lightning

Like many big stars, the kingfisher is rather small, averaging 17-19 centimetres. In contrast, its beak, which is completely black in males and shimmers red on the underside of females, appears slightly oversized.

In common parlance, the kingfisher is also called the “flying gem” or the “blue lightning”. The former is, of course, based on its attractive appearance, while the latter is due to its extraordinary hunting abilities: In addition to insects and tadpoles, the kingfisher feeds on fish up to 12 centimetres in size. It swoops down on them in a matter of seconds, leaving them no chance to escape. The fish are then devoured in one piece, and their non-digestible remains are regurgitated as pellets some time later – as is also known from owls, for example.

In order to ensure its food supply, the kingfisher usually settles at clear flowing or stagnant waters. In urban areas, the rather shy bird can be observed with a little luck near ponds or streams. Besides its special appearance, you can also recognise it by its characteristic “Thjii-Thjii” calls.

Why is the kingfisher actually called a kingfisher?

The origin of the bird’s name is disputed. Some experts are convinced that the name kingfisher can be traced back to the old German word “eisan”, which means “to shimmer” or “to shine”. However, there is also the assumption that the name is related to the word “iron”. This also sounds plausible, because the plumage of the animal shines both in steel blue and rust red. The assumption that the animal’s name is due to its special love for low temperatures can be ruled out, because the kingfisher hates the cold. In harsh winters, the population of the kingfisher can be reduced by up to 80 percent regionally, as the animals either starve to death or simply freeze to death due to frozen waters. Fortunately, however, the species is able to restore its original population within a few years, because between the end of March and the end of August the bird can manage up to 5 broods, laying 6-7 eggs each. It is interesting to note that the kingfisher does not build classic nests, but creates so-called breeding tubes for the birth. For these, it digs tunnels up to 80 centimetres long in embankments and steep walls made of clay or sand, at the ends of which the young birds are then often supplied with food by the males, while the females are already incubating new eggs in another place.

The Bird of the Year

Every year, the kingfisher is one of the favourites in the election for Bird of the Year organised regularly by LBV and NABU. In 1973 and 2009, it was already able to secure the title, and this year, for the first time, birders from all over Germany were able to participate, and it has made it into the final selection. He has already received our vote. Maybe you would like to support the kingfisher with your vote after the bitterly cold January and February days. https://www.vogeldesjahres.de/?ref=header Click on the link to go directly to the vote.

Author: Tim

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