Common Kingfisher

The Danube and its tributaries are home to one of the most important transnational breeding population of the kingfisher in Europe. Conservation actions are therefore of the highest importance.

In the course of this project a survey on the distribution of the kingfisher should form a basis for conservation actions in accordance with the implementation of the pilot restoration actions. This should lead to an improvement in habitat quality overall.

The “flying gemstone” is still frequently found in the Danube floodplains, which are home to the most important breeding occurrences of the kingfisher in Austria. Like the ringed plover and the sandpiper, it is completely adapted to the natural flood dynamics, which are constantly reshaping the river landscape: On the one hand, it is dependent on the formation of sand-loamy bank outcrops for the construction of the breeding tubes; on the other hand, it is the food specialist, who exploits small fish by impact diving, needs varied shore structures with alluvial deadwood and overhanging branches as hunting grounds as well as shallow water areas, where small and juvenile fish like to live.


The kingfisher is the only Central European representative of a bird-family, that is particularly species-rich in the tropics and whose representatives are extraordinarily colourful throughout. The kingfisher is unmistakable among the native birds in shape and colouring. The upper side shimmers azure-blue until emerald-green according to incidence of light, underside and cheeks are bright orange. With the hunt on small fish, the bird looks roundish with a big head. Nearly a quarter of the length constitutes the dagger-shaped, too heavy appearing beak. With good binoculars even the sexes are distinguishable: with the female, the basis of the beak is red, with the male completely black.


The kingfisher is an extremely widespread bird that lives in all wetland-rich landscapes in the southern Eurasia as far as Japan, China, India and New Guinea. In Europe, it is missing only in the northernmost latitudes (e.g. Scotland, Scandinavia). In Austria, the Donau-Auen National Park is the most important breeding area. Other important areas besides the rest of the Danube valley are the March-Thaya floodplains, individual tributaries of the Danube (e.g. the Schwechat and Fischa) and the rivers in the hilly region of eastern Styria and southern Burgenland. In other areas the species only breeds locally or not every year.

Endangering and protection status

In Austria, the kingfisher has disappeared from  entire stretches of land because of river regulation and is considered to be “severely endangered” according to the Red List, due to the extent of this population decline. A slight decline has also taken place in recent years. The pollution of water bodies by toxic chemicals from industry is of great importance, but also by eutrophication (over fertilization) from agriculture and urban wastewater. A negative population trend can be observed in the majority of Europe, where there has been a marked decline in populations, especially in the “progressive” countries of Central and Western Europe, for the same reasons. As for other Europe-wide endangered species the EU Birds Directive therefore provides special protection for its habitat, in particular through suitable protected areas.

Way of life

The kingfisher sits usually in an upright, easily bent posture on a dead branch, a piece of driftwood or free-rinsed roots, one meter of height above the water. It looks for small fish on that occasion, in the summer also after bigger insect-larvae. If it discovers a small-fish (of approximately 4-7 cm of length), it plunges vertically into the water - after short “shake-flight” and often disappears completely. He frequently changes the hunting station. The nest consists of a bare hollow at the end of an earth tube, that is dug into a water-near earth wall itself. This is for protection against robbers and high waters, but also to the free approach, the entrance lies as high as possible and is not overgrown by plants (at first). While the northern and eastern European populations have their nesting ground largely abandoned in winter, it leaves the further surroundings of the brood-area only if, no more sufficient food-conditions are given through the freezing of the waters.


Kingfishers rank among the “most productive” birds: in good years, they can raise three, even four broods with usually 6 - 7 chicks. In this way they compensate for the strong population fluctuations, for which a high youth mortality, but above all extreme winters are responsible. After such events, kingfisher populations can collapse completely; and it then often takes many years until the population recovers.

Alps Carpathians River Corridor

Within the framework of this project, a cross-border presentation of the distribution of this species is to be developed. This will provide the basis for an assessment of the extent, to which the measures taken in the project will contribute to the strengthening of the habitat network for this species.