Although this is surely one of the most conspicuous of British birds, so much in order that it looks almost too exotic and jewel-like to become a native, it’s surprising to find out how many people, even just in suitable places that they are not uncommon, confess they have never seen an active specimen.
Not really a hundred yards where this is being written is really a narrow, steep-banked chalk-stream, where seven different kingfishers maintained to have been present, usually singly, between late June and September; yet a resident whose paddock runs right down to the stream has yet to determine his first specimen.
Even anglers who haunt known kingfisher sites from mid-June to mid-March may neglect to catch a peek at the fleeting arrow of emerald, cobalt and orange, despite the fact that scores of opportunities should have been obtainable in an average season.
The reason behind this blind spot in the powers of observation of otherwise observant people is the fact that, more often than not, the chance of a satisfactory view may exist for a part of a second.
Therefore, it is essential to know when you should look and where you can look. The kingfisher is extremely prone to giving audible warning of approach-a shrill piping not unlike a louder version of the dunnock’s call. Once this really is learnt kingfisher spotting becomes easy, for one doesn’t have to scan the whole sky but the surface of the water.
It’s possibly this flight near to the water which enables the kingfisher to pass through by unnoticed; it is a fact that swallows are obvious enough when they’re skimming just like close to the water, however their continual changing obviously and visible wing-movements attract attention. The kingfisher’s usual arrow-straight flight, and the illusion that it’s moving without wing-beats, simply doesn’t look bird-like.
Normally the kingfisher is sufficiently mobile and adaptable to outlive a hard winter; if ponds or lakes freeze it’ll move to still flowing rivers; should these freeze, it may move to swifter rivers, as well as to the sea shore. However in exceptional winters, such as 1962-63, almost all of these alternatives became inaccessible for fishing purposes, and by the lack of breeding records from many English counties in the following nesting-season, and the lack of sight records of even single birds within their old haunts, it would appear that the kingfisher, although for various reasons, was as severely reduced in numbers as the wren.
In completely different weather conditions the kingfisher may also show adaptability in altering its methods to suit different circumstances. It normally watches, and lastly dives, for use some perch overhanging the water, however when a prolonged drought once caused the margin of the lake to recede until only dried mud lay beneath any available perch, the kingfishers didn’t leave, but fished like miniature ospreys-hovering over the water for the preliminary reconnaissance, then diving.