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Belted Kingfisher

Terry Gray Photo

(Megaceryle alcyon)

Physical Characteristics: On average measure 13 inches long and weigh 5 ounces. Stocky, large-headed birds with short legs and shaggy crest on top and back of head with a straight, thick, pointed bill. Tails are square tipped and powder blue on top with fine white spotting on the wings and tail. Underparts are white with broad, blue breast band. Females have broad rusty band on bellies. Juveniles show irregular rusty spotting in breast band.

Diet: Mostly eat small fish, typically less than 5 inches long. Also eat crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and aquatic insects. Occasionally eat young birds, lizards and berries.

Habitat: Primarily live near a pond, lake, river or stream. Prefer to be near forests or wooded areas. Need steep, exposed earth banks to dig nesting burrows. Abundance of perches makes hunting easier.

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

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

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

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

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