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Ringed Kingfisher Life History


Rivers and Streams

Ringed Kingfishers frequent freshwater environments where the water is clear enough to spot prey from above. They use virtually any convenient perch (natural or human-made) for hunting, especially tall trees with bare branches and utility wires. They hunt in rivers, lakes, and ponds and occasionally saltwater and brackish environments if there are places to perch. They don't tend to use small, shaded streams or creeks. They nest in burrows in bare riverbanks, and sometimes nest a short distance away from water as well. After the nesting season, they range more widely, even hunting in canals and ditches when prey and perches are present. In Middle America and South America, this species also occurs in mangrove forests, offshore reefs, fish farms, and fjords (in Chile).

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FishRinged Kingfishers eat mostly freshwater fish, but also crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, and large insects. Their keen eyes can spot prey at some distance, so they can hunt from high above the water’s surface. They capture prey with the bill using impressive dives from above or from an angle; usually only the head and bill enter the water, after which the bird rapidly ascends to its perch. They take most prey items in shallows, within 3 feet of the water’s edge. Ringed Kingfishers occasionally hover over the water to spot prey, but they do so much less often than Belted Kingfishers. Most of Ringed Kingfisher’s prey items are 3–4 inches long, but they can consume fish nearly 8 inches long. They swallow fish head first. After capturing and consuming a fish, they usually move to a new perch. Back to top


Nest Placement

BurrowNests are set at the end of a burrow excavated by the adults in the bank of a river or similar vertical earthen site. Burrows can be 9 feet long with an entrance hole well above the high-water mark, usually about 5 inches in diameter.

Nest Description

Nest depressions are just bare earth at the end of a burrow.

Nesting Facts

Egg Length:1.7-1.8 in (4.4-4.5 cm)
Egg Width:1.3-1.3 in (3.2-3.4 cm)
Incubation Period:22 days
Egg Description:White.
Condition at Hatching:Naked and helpless.
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Aerial Dive (water)

Ringed Kingfishers are solitary for most of the year. During the nesting season, male and female interact mostly at the nest burrow. Early in the nesting cycle, males may present females with a fish, a form of courtship feeding. No other obvious courtship display is known. This species is socially monogamous. Both male and female defend nesting territories if an intruder appears, but conflict is rarely reported. Both adults excavate the burrow, incubate the eggs, and feed the young. When changing places at the burrow, Ringed Kingfishers often give a short klek call to alert the mate at the nest. They usually stay with the young for a month or more before the family disperses. In the nonbreeding season, Ringed Kingfishers do occasionally chase away Belted Kingfishers, but they do not behave in a territorial manner otherwise. They spook easily when humans approach, giving loud, rattling calls as they fly off or when they are displaced from their perch by another kingfisher.

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Low Concern

Ringed Kingfishers are a relatively recent arrival to southern Texas, where they are locally common and slowly expanding northward. Across their large range south of the U.S., they are quite common. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million and rates the species 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Like other kingfishers, Ringed is sensitive to disturbance near the nest, which limits suitable nesting areas to sites without frequent human presence. Anywhere in its large range, Ringed Kingfisher and many other bird species would benefit from conservation of riparian zones, reforestation of degraded stream corridors, and reduction of pollutants entering the water table.

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Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World