How to Film Wildlife – part 9: kingfishers

BBC cameraman John Aitchison reveals how to film a breathtaking footage of a kingfisher. 

How to film kingfishers main spread.

BBC cameraman John Aitchison reveals how to film a breathtaking footage of a kingfisher. 


Find your kingfisher

Bridges are excellent viewpoints from which to scan large areas of river for local birds. Listen out for the kingfisher’s piercing call and look for the flash of its electric blue rump as it hurtles by. Once you’ve located your subject, the priority is to get close enough to secure the perfect footage – just make sure that the landowner is happy for you to be there.

Follow the fish

Kingfishers feed on small fish, such as minnows, and don’t dive to great depths. This makes it easy to spot their feeding places from the riverbank. Scout out areas where the water is moving slowly – perhaps on the inside of a river bend, by a fallen tree or behind a rock – all places where fish gather. Kingfishers can’t swim, so they tend to avoid turbulent waters.

Get the timing right

Kingfishers stay on their breeding sites all year (they do migrate to the coast in harsh weather, but the shift to milder winters is making such movements less frequent). As a result, the species can usually be filmed in the same territory in every season. Your chances of success are highest in spring and summer when adults have young.

Set the scene

Once you get close to a kingfisher’s regular fishing perch, you should be able to predict where the bird will hit the water when it dives. It will usually bring fish back to the perch, quickly stunning them before swallowing its meal whole. 


1. Choose your site

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Tread softly and move slowly when you look for a place to set up your camera, so as not to disturb the fish. Crouch down and stay still for a while – any wary minnows will probably return to their favourite stretch of water.

2. Provide a perch

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Though kingfishers can hunt while hovering, it’s hard work. You can make life much easier for them by providing perches. The birds should become frequent visitors to these posts once they know where to find them.

3. Get in close

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Kingfishers are surprisingly confiding birds and have been known to perch on fishing rods when anglers are only a few metres away, so you can afford to set up your equipment near to the makeshift perch.

4. Watch and wait

© Mary-Lou Aitchison

Try to keep movement to a minimum once you’re in position. You may well be there for several hours, so make yourself nice and comfortable. When you need to move your hands, to focus the lens for instance, do it slowly.

5. Be persistent

It may take a while for a kingfisher to get used to the perch, but the footage you get when it does will be well worth the wait. If your chosen location produces no results, try again on a different stretch of riverbank.



Camo net To blend in with the riverbank, drape yourself and your camera gear in a camouflage net. You could also put a layer of scrim over your face. Both are available from government surplus shops.

Gloves It’s a good idea to wear dark-coloured gloves, because moving fingers are the most conspicuous part of your body.

Folding stool and cushion Comfort is vital on stakeouts, and a padded stool will help to keep you relaxed and alert during long hours spent filming. I like the Walkstool


Look out for How to film wildlife in your garden... coming soon!

Find out more about the work of John Aitchison and follow him on Twitter @johnaitchison1



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