Living Bird Magazine
Belted KingfisherMegaceryle alcyon
- ORDER: Coraciiformes
- FAMILY: Alcedinidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Martín Gigante Norteamericano (Spanish)
- Martin-pêcheur d'Amérique (French)
Belted Kingfishers sometimes come to backyards that contain ponds or goldfish pools, often to the dismay of the homeowners.
- Cool Facts
- The breeding distribution of the Belted Kingfisher is limited in some areas by the availability of suitable nesting sites. Human activity, such as road building and digging gravel pits, has created banks where kingfishers can nest and allowed the expansion of the breeding range.
- The Belted Kingfisher is one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. Among the nearly 100 species of kingfishers, the sexes often look alike. In some species the male is more colorful, and in others the female is.
- During breeding season the Belted Kingfisher pair defends a territory against other kingfishers. A territory along a stream includes just the streambed and the vegetation along it, and averages 0.6 mile long. The nest burrow is usually in a dirt bank near water. The tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, perhaps to keep water from entering the nest. Tunnel length ranges from 1 to 8 feet.
- As nestlings, Belted Kingfishers have acidic stomachs that help them digest bones, fish scales, and arthropod shells. But by the time they leave the nest, their stomach chemistry apparently changes, and they begin regurgitating pellets which accumulate on the ground around fishing and roosting perches. Scientists can dissect these pellets to learn about the kingfisher’s diet without harming or even observing any wild birds.
- Belted Kingfishers wander widely, sometimes showing up in the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, the British Isles, the Azores, Iceland, Greenland, and the Netherlands.
- Pleistocene fossils of Belted Kingfishers (to 600,000 years old) have been unearthed in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas. The oldest known fossil in the kingfisher genus is 2 million years old, found in Alachua County, Florida.