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I want to take some photographs of Kingfishers in the United Kingdom. How do I find them, get close to them, etc?

Common kingfisher

Image Source

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Turns out this is actually quite difficult. Apart from the scarcity a major issue is that Kingfishers in the UK are a Schedule 1 protected species. This essentially means it's illegal to go anywhere near their nest, etc. If you can find somewhere not near a nest then great but this is going to be difficult.

You’ll need a licence if you can’t avoid disturbing birds listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when they’re:

  • nest building
  • rearing young

You’ll need to apply for a licence to:

  • disturb wild birds to survey for science, education and conservation work
  • disturb wild birds for photography

You should also report your actions taken under these licences to Natural England following the guidance on the report form.

Applying for a schedule one license is (purposely) very difficult.

Any nest locations are closely guarded secrets or under 24 hour surveillance. I saw one thread on a photography Facebook group that basically told one person asking that "No one is going to tell you this information".


Now that said UK right of way seems to trump this. So if you're on a right of way (footpath) etc. then you can observe the birds from there. But if you set foot off the footpath then you'd be breaking the schedule one restrictions, so this is going to make it difficult to find a good location.

Also note the restriction on not disturbing the bird. This seems purposely open ended. You could argue that you're not causing a disturbance by simply photographing them. You might be on shaky ground here unless you're in a good hide, etc. as I would guess even scaring the birds would count as disturbance. But then how do you hide if you can't leave the path!

A good thread on the subject here.

Probably your best bet to photograph a kingfisher is to visit a RSPB reserve


Other schedule one protected birds include:

  • Avocet
  • Bittern
  • Eagle, white-tailed
  • Eagle, golden
  • Goshawk
  • Owl, barn
  • Peregrine
  • Redwing
  • etc

Full list here

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    Photographing from a public footpath or with similar access is generally treated as not disturbing, but obviously without deliberate flushing. There are many footpaths alongside good kingfisher habitat that give good views. My best sighting (apart from in a kayak) was at Dunsford nature reserve in Devon, for example – Chris H Apr 23 '18 at 10:56
  • It sure would not call on the path taking a photo a disturbance. You get close with a telephoto lens. – paparazzo Apr 23 '18 at 14:10
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    Hi Liam, is this not very specific to UK? Would you mind editing your question to reflect the same? – Ricketyship Apr 23 '18 at 16:29
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    If you're going to catch them away from the nest you're going to need a lot of persistence and a lot of luck. I regularly swim on a Devon river with a good population and there's a fallen tree by the pool where they sometimes come to fish and to preen. When you're in the water they don't notice you so much, and at times I've crept to within 10 feet or so for a good view. But I'm there most days, and this only happens once or twice a year... – Tullochgorum Apr 23 '18 at 16:42
  • @Ricketyship the questions has the tag uk this should be enough. See What are tags, and how should I use them? – user2766 Apr 24 '18 at 7:52

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