Head to the river and you may spot a kingfisher

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A monthly column by Rachel Shaw of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

A summer’s day: blue skies, the wind blowing in the willow trees, damselflies flitting about on the water’s edge, with the sound of running water. What better time is there to be by the riverside?



But amongst the buzzing of the bees, the hiccupping of the moorhens and the song of the willow warbler, listen out for a high pitched, urgent ‘peep peep peep’ piping. That’s your sign to quickly look up and down the river: a kingfisher is flying past.

For such a brightly coloured bird, the kingfisher can be surprisingly tricky to spot. He spends much of his time sitting quietly on a perch, in the shade of the overhanging branches, his bright orange breast on show.

But when he’s disturbed, the kingfisher is transformed. A blazing streak of electric blue, skimming fast and low over the water’s surface. He speeds past, ‘peep peep’ing, before swerving round the bend in the river and out of sight.

Many people are surprised by how small a kingfisher is when they first see one. With a length of 15-17cm and wingspan of 40cm, kingfishers are only slightly bigger than house sparrows.

If you’re lucky enough to get a closer view, pay close attention to that dagger-like bill: the male’s is all black whereas the female wears red lipstick on her lower mandible.