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Bird of the Month: Belted Kingfisher

Published on 6/8/2014
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

By Gary Luhm

The conspicuous Belted Kingfisher rattles like windows in an earthquake while in flight, or chatters from a favorite fishing perch to let you know who owns the territory. With an almost comic, over-sized bill, head and crest to match its obstreperousness, the Belted Kingfisher sport a blue-grey back and chest, white collar and tiny feet. Females have a rufous belly band, making them the more colorful than the male. Plumage doesn’t change summer and winter.

Belted Kingfishers hunt small fish, crayfish and other aquatic life from a perch or hover. They dive head first to depths of two feet to catch prey in their bills, return to a perch, and then beat the prey senseless before flipping it to swallow head first. Fishing territory is guarded, and can be a ½-mile or more during nesting season.

The Belted Kingfisher builds its nest by burrowing into near-vertical stream banks or eroded cliffs, digging several feet back and up and creating a 10” diameter chamber that may be re-used in subsequent years. Males feed females fish during courtship. Young are fed regurgitated food, and need to be taught how to fish after fledging.

Kingfishers can be found everywhere near clear streams, rivers, ponds and estuaries that have perches for hunting. Look for 3-4” dia. holes that indicate nest sites on banks or cliffs below the Ballard locks, near Fort Flagler State Park, Joemma Beach State Park, the Swinomish Channel or the north end of Lummi Island. Their conservation status is stable. 


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