Belted Kingfisher

Female Belted Kingfisher, Terry Gray Photo Credit

(Megaceryle alcyon)

Physical Characteristics: On average they measure 13-inches long and weigh around 5-ounces. They are stocky, large-headed birds with short legs and a shaggy crest on the top and back of the head with a straight, thick, pointed bill. Their tails are square tipped and powder blue on top with fine white spotting on the wings and tail. 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.

Diet: Eat mostly small fish, typically less than 5-inches long. Will also eat crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and aquatic insects. Occasionally they will also eat young birds, lizards and berries.

Habitat: Belted Kingfishers primarily live near a body of water, such as a pond, lake, river or stream. Prefer to be near forests or wooded areas. The bird needs steep, near-vertical exposed earth banks to dig nesting burrows. Habitat that provides clear, smooth water and plenty of perches makes hunting easier.

Range: Breed from Alaska eastward across Canada, and south throughout most of the U.S. They spend winters in the American southwest, Mexico and across Central America. Summer habitat is found throughout the Lower 48, including southeastern Alaska. Belted Kingfishers are found in many drainages in the Clearwater Basin.

Reproduction: Typically lay 6-7 eggs. Both female and males incubate eggs for approximately three weeks. The female incubates at night, with males taking over in the morning. Both parents feed the young with partially digested fish and later whole fish after hatching. The young leave the nest about four weeks after hatching but are still fed by parents for another three weeks.

Threats: Disturbances during nesting season can be a threat to the species, and may cause the birds to abandon the area. They appear to be less susceptible to aquatic contaminants due to the fact they prey on small fish, which accumulate smaller amounts of toxins.

Miscellaneous: Belted Kingfishers are one of about one-hundred species of Kingfishers. They are one of the few bird species where the female is more brightly colored then the male. Belted Kingfishers can spend weeks excavating burrows in a river bank or lakeside bluff. They use their bills to chip away at the dirt, while they use their feet (in which two of the toes are fused together) as a plow to push loose dirt out of the tunnel. The tunnel can be 3 ½ – 4-inches wide and up to 6-feet long. Scientists believe the nesting chamber at the end of the tunnel can act as an air pocket, and protect the young if the stream or waterway floods.

Friends of the Clearwater participated in a recent study of Belted Kingfisher in the Clearwater Basin.


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