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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon ORDER: CORACIIFORMES FAMILY: ALCEDINIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With its top-heavy physique, energetic flight, and piercing rattle, the Belted Kingfisher seems to have an air of self-importance as it patrols up and down rivers and shorelines. It nests in burrows along earthen banks and feeds almost entirely on aquatic prey, diving to catch fish and crayfish with its heavy, straight bill. These ragged-crested birds are a powdery blue-gray; males have one blue band across the white breast, while females have a blue and a chestnut band.

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Keys to identification Help

Kingfishers
Kingfishers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Belted Kingfishers are stocky, large-headed birds with a shaggy crest on the top and back of the head and a straight, thick, pointed bill. Their legs are short and their tails are medium length and square-tipped.

  • Color Pattern

    These kingfishers are powder blue above with fine, white spotting on the wings and tail. The underparts are white with a broad, blue breast band. Females also have a broad rusty band on their bellies. Juveniles show irregular rusty spotting in the breast band.

  • Behavior

    Belted Kingfishers spend much of their time perched alone along the edges of streams, lakes, and estuaries, searching for small fish. They also fly quickly up and down rivers and shorelines giving loud rattling calls. They hunt either by plunging directly from a perch, or by hovering over the water, bill downward, before diving after a fish they’ve spotted.

  • Habitat

    Kingfishers live near streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and estuaries. They nest in burrows that they dig into soft earthen banks, usually adjacent to or directly over water. Kingfishers spend winters in areas where the water doesn’t freeze so that they have continual access to their aquatic foods.

Range Map Help

Belted Kingfisher Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Female

    Belted Kingfisher

    Female
    • Short and stocky with shaggy crest
    • Heavy, dagger-like black bill
    • Slaty blue above with white collar
    • Female shows two bands on chest, with the upper band mostly blue and the lower reddish-brown
    • © Nick Chill, San Diego, California, February 2010
  • Female

    Belted Kingfisher

    Female
    • Short and stocky
    • Shaggy blue crest
    • White collar
    • Female shows two breast bands with the upper band mostly blue and the lower reddish brown
    • © rivadock4, Annapolis, Maryland, May 2011
  • Male

    Belted Kingfisher

    Male
    • Short and stocky with shaggy blue crest
    • Stout black bill
    • White underparts
    • Male shows single blue breast band
    • © Ed Schneider, Nashville, Tennessee, February 2009
  • Female

    Belted Kingfisher

    Female
    • Stocky with shaggy blue crest
    • Short tail
    • Dagger-like black bill
    • Female shows two breast bands, with the upper band blue and the lower reddish brown
    • © cdbtx, Lake Kayak, Monroe, Washington, January 2009
  • Female

    Belted Kingfisher

    Female
    • Often perches upright on exposed snags
    • Shaggy blue crest
    • Very short legs
    • Female shows second reddish-brown band below blue breast band
    • © Cameron Rognan, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, June 2009
  • Male in flight

    Belted Kingfisher

    Male in flight
    • Short tail striped black and white
    • Prominent, dagger-like black bill
    • Male mostly white below with single blue breast band
    • © Michaela Sagatova, Dundas, Ontario, Canada, January 2011
  • Female

    Belted Kingfisher

    Female
    • Shaggy blue crest
    • Sits upright on exposed perches
    • Blue back and wings
    • Upper breast band usually blue, but occasionally coppery
    • Female shows second, reddish brown band on belly
    • © Syd Phillips, Nonaville, Tennessee, June 2011
  • In flight

    Belted Kingfisher

    In flight
    • Long wings and short tail
    • Thick black bill very prominent
    • Bold white patches on upper surface of wings
    • Mostly slaty blue above with white collar
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, December 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Blue Jay

    Adult
    • Smaller and more slender than Belted Kingfisher
    • Crest peaked, not "shaggy"
    • Thin black necklace instead of large blue breast band
    • © Gary Tyson, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, April 2009

Similar Species

Kingfishers are very distinctively shaped birds. The two other species of North American kingfishers occur only in extreme southern U.S. The huge, crow-sized Ringed Kingfisher is a tropical species that barely extends its range into Texas. They are considerably larger and stouter than Belted Kingfishers, with a truly massive bill and almost entirely rusty underparts. Green Kingfishers occur in south Texas and occasionally Arizona. They are about half the size of a Belted Kingfisher, although with a disproportionately long bill. Their green-and-white plumage is distinctive if seen in good light.

    Backyard Tips

    Belted Kingfishers sometimes come to backyards that contain ponds or goldfish pools, often to the dismay of the homeowners.

    Find This Bird

    Belted Kingfishers are common along streams and shorelines across North America. You’ll probably hear a loud, rattling call before you see the kingfisher. Its large head and hefty bill give it a distinctive profile as it patrols its territory, using the open space above the water as a flyway. They also perch on riverside branches and telephone wires. Belted Kingfishers also make long commuting flights over fields and forests, far from water, so be prepared for the occasional surprise flyover wherever you are birding.