Belted Kingfisher


If you spend any amount of time near some lake or river, you are probably familiar with belted kingfishers.  Even if you don’t often see them, their chattering or rattling call can often be heard as they cruise the shoreline in search for their next meal.

I got a better look at a belted kingfisher than I wanted not long ago at our home at Lake Metigoshe.  Early one evening I heard a loud thump; some bird had obviously flown into our picture window.  As I looked out the window, a male kingfisher was going through the final throes of death on our deck.

I picked it up and stroked the soft bluish-gray feathers of its head and back.   As is typical, the head was comparatively large with a prominent crest.  The bill was narrow and long, but stout.  The white belly with a blue bib or breast band (the “belt”) is an identifiable characteristic of males.  Females also have a rusty red colored breast band below the blue band.  The small white spot by each eye was also quite distinct.

Belted kingfishers are permanent residents over much of the United States with open water all year, but here in the northern states and much of Canada they are only summer residents.  Here in North Dakota they may be observed along many lakes, rivers, and streams across the state.

It may surprise many of you, but kingfishers do not nest in trees, tree cavities, or on the ground.  They nest in burrows!  They use their stout bills (and feet) to not only catch fish but also excavate a burrow in steep soil banks near water.  Their nesting habitat is similar to that of bank swallows.  The burrows are around six inches in diameter and perhaps six feet long.

Kingfishers are, of course, the avian “King of fishers.” Their scientific name, Megaceryle alcyon is actually quite descriptive.  Megaceryle translates from Greek “big seabird.”  Alcyon is the name of a lady in Greek mythology who grieved so much for her drowned husband that the Gods turned both of them into kingfishers.

If you get the opportunity watch a kingfisher feeding, take advantage of it.  They often will perch on a branch over the water.  When they spot their prey they simply drop into the water head first, and as you might expect, often come back up with a minnow in their bill.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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