Attracting A Fisher King


On many waterways there is a small, brilliantly coloured individual who surveys the flowing waters meticulously, planning his next catch. Now, I am not talking about those keen anglers that we see patiently waiting in the flowing waters. After all, though practical, their outfits are not overly indulgent on the colour front, though I am certainly not adverse to seeing one that is. No, in fact, I am talking about a fisher who preys on smaller fish, and flies so quickly that often all we see is a flash of bright orange and a high-pitched song. The Kingfisher.

For many, the presence of a kingfisher on their river, is something to boast about, and quite right too. These vibrant little birds are a rare sight on many waterways, as they are difficult to spot and highly secretive. Kingfishers are well known as a very fragile species, with adults needing to consume their own body weight in prey each day just to survive. Poor weather, high waters and cold temperatures can threaten both nests and adult survival. Preying on minnows, sticklebacks, roach and trout and salmon fry, kingfishers have very particular habitat requirements, and each pair will contest their territory fiercely. As an amber status species, there is always more that we can be doing to attract and protect this fragile and dynamic species. As winter gives way to spring and eventually summer, there are small and simple things that we can do around waterways, not only to conserve current territories, but to possibly provide new ones.

When it comes to nesting, kingfishers are very particular. Kingfishers prefer riverbanks that are more or less vertical and are almost devoid of any vegetation. For the kingfisher, this means that the excavation of nesting tunnels is easier as the soil is looser, with fewer root systems that bind it. Burrows are usually located just below the very top of the bank in order to protect against high waters, therefore, bank clearing and cutting during the summer does encourage kingfishers to nest.

However, it is not just nesting that needs to be thought of when conserving this species. As a hunter, kingfishers need a suitable area to hunt as well as suitable conditions. Although we cannot provide all that kingfishers require, we can help with a few. Perches are a vital requirement to the kingfisher, as they plan their dives from perches that sit above the water surface. Ideally, these perches need to be located over slower flowing waters and need to be solid, so that dives can be timed and executed perfectly. But no need to dash to the shed and begin construction on a very inventive perch just yet. A simple bit of twig cutting from larger tree branches is all that is required to provide an easy to cling to and stable perch.

Now I am not suggesting anyone go down to their local river and chop away at endless tree branches and mow all vegetation within an inch of its life. As fun as it would be, I don’t want to open the door to several angry council officials saying that I had encouraged such mania, and all to please a kingfisher. Though that may seem acceptable to you and I, I fear others may not share our opinion.

Not all rivers will be suited to the kingfisher. However, if the kingfisher is a species that we want to attract to waterways, adopting a few of these simple practices may just be the gentle nudge that they need to select your river. Could a fisher king be coming soon to a river near you?

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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