North York Moors

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Kingfisher on branchKingfisher on branch
Scientific name

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). 


Rivers, ponds and lakes throughout lowland areas of Britain. They usually prefer slow-flowing water rather than very fast-flowing streams.


The kingfisher is one of our most beautiful birds and is easily recognized, although all you are likely to see is a flash of blue darting like an arrow, up or down a river. They are a dazzling blue/green above and orange underneath. They have a short tail and a large head with a large, strong, pointed beak. The call of a kingfisher is like a loud, shrill whistle. 


Kingfishers mainly eat fish, insects and worms. They are great at catching fish, often sitting on a branch over a river – or even hovering – watching for the movement of small fish such as minnows, sticklebacks, stone loach and small trout. When they see a fish they dive straight into the water to catch it. 

Kingfisher pairs start to make their nests in April. They dig out a tunnel – up to a metre long – in a steep riverbank and then make the end of the tunnel into a rounded nest chamber. Females lay up to 7 eggs and both parents help to keep them warm until they hatch, and then both feed the chicks. 


Kingfishers need clean water with a plentiful supply of fish. Threats to kingfishers include polluted water and loss of suitable, undisturbed river banks for nest building. Cold winters may also lead to a drop in numbers because kingfishers struggle to find enough to eat if the water freezes. 

Kingfisher numbers are thought to be scarce but stable in the North York Moors National Park. The National Park Authority has been working with landowners, farmers and fishing clubs to improve river habitats on the Esk and the Upper Derwent. For example, in some areas where cattle drink from the river, they accelerate riverbank erosion. The National Park Authority has helped to provide money to have proper drinking places built for cattle, in order to protect the river banks.