Be Your Own Birder

Bird of the Week: Belted Kingfisher

This week’s featured bird is very aptly named – the belted kingfisher does indeed wear a “belt” of color, it has a crown-like crest fit for royalty and it is a champion fisher. But there’s so much more to these amazing birds!

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher – Photo by Russ

Name: Belted Kingfisher
Scientific Name: Megaceryle alcyon
Scientific FamilyAlcedinidae (Kingfishers)

Habitat: Always near wooded freshwater or slightly brackish water sources, including lakes, bays, estuaries, rivers, ponds and streams. The best habitats have at least some loose, steep banks for these cavity-nesting birds, and are rich in small fish and large insects that serve as prey. Belted kingfishers prefer habitats that have perches overhanging the water, such as drooping branches, dead snags or even wires and power lines where they can perch patiently and wait for prey to come too close.

Range: These birds are widespread throughout North America. In Canada and northern Alaska, they are only summer guests, but they stay year-round along the Pacific coast, Aleutian Islands and much of the continental United States. They are winter visitors in the hottest parts of the southwestern United States as well as Mexico, the Caribbean and along the northern South American coast from Colombia to Guyana.

Belted kingfishers are very distinctive birds with a top-heavy build, large head and long, straight, stout bill. Males are overall slate blue-gray with a white throat and white belly separated by a slate blue-gray band across the breast, and the tail has fine barring. Females are slightly larger than males and have a chestnut band across the belly just below the blue-gray breast band, and they also show some chestnut on the flanks. Both genders have a small white spot in front of the eye on the blue-gray face, and both have a shaggy crest they can raise and lower with mood, expression or communication. The tail is straight across, and the wings seem overly large for the bird’s size, but those wings serve them well with hovering flight that allows kingfishers to hunt effectively and plunge dive after prey in the water. In flight, their path is straight with rapid wing beats, and they often chatter rapidly while flying as well.

I’ve had many great experiences with belted kingfishers. One of my first was with a cooperative male who happily perched on the corner of a solar panel adjacent to a marshy pond where he was fishing. He kept returning to the same perch after each foray, giving me plenty of opportunities to see him from all angles and postures. I’ve also seen these birds camped out at a local Walmart where there is another marshy pond with a perfect power line right over the water, ideal as a hunting perch. I’ve even been fortunate to have a belted kingfisher right in my neighborhood, which we spotted both perched and flying along a small retention stream that is perfect kingfisher habitat with overhanging vegetation and steep dirt banks for nesting. You never know where these bold birds may appear, and every time you do see them, they are well worth watching!

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