Although kingfishers are quite small, not much bigger than a robin, they are very striking because they have the most colourful plumage of any Irish wild bird. They are so iridescent that, on a sunny day, they appear to emit blue light. They are very fussy about where they live. They need clear, shallow water with a good supply of small fish and large invertebrates to feed on, over-hanging branches to supply perches to dive off to catch this prey and vertical banks of soft soil in which they can excavate the burrows they nest in. They are, however, quite tolerant of humans and there are territories in Dublin on the Dodder, the Liffey and the Tolka.
They are primarily river birds, though they sometimes live along suitable lake shores and in freezing weather will visit estuaries and other coastal areas - there is a resident pair in the salt-marsh at Booterstown in Dublin. Canals - the Royal, the Grand, parts of the Shannon-Erne Waterway and lateral canals on the Barrow Navigation - often provide ideal kingfisher habitat.
They defend quite large territories, so you'll never see great numbers of them in any given area, but the data available suggests that they're doing quite well in Ireland. However, there's no scientific data available since the very long spell of hard weather during the winter of 2010/2011 and many kingfishers starve to death in weather like this. On a European level there is concern about their status which is why they're listed as an Annexe One species. This obliges EU member states to take measures to protect them. The species has a huge range, extending into North Africa (with an isolated population in South Africa's Western Cape Province) and all the way across Asia to Japan and the Philippines. Globally their status is listed as Least Concern.
Kingfishers in Episode Three
Dick speaks to Laura Nutall from 'Birdwatch Ireland' about these beautiful birds, and they spot some kingfishers along the canal.