Species Profile: Belted Kingfisher

“Communicating” by Sandy Stewart

July’s Photo of the Month winner is Sandy Stewart with her lovely photo of a Belted Kingfisher! Her subject – the Kingfisher – is situated on the right third of the photo. The lines of the grass and the zig-zag of the tree stump lead our attention to the bird. The rich colours of the golden grass, earthy wood, and moss complement the vibrant blue of the Kingfisher’s head, wings, and the rust and chestnut browns in the band across its chest. All in all, this photo exemplifies excellent composition – great job, Sandy!

The Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) is a medium-sized bird from 28 – 30 cm in height with a wingspan of 48 – 58 cm in length. It is easily identifiable by the large shaggy, mohawk-like crest of feathers that it can raise on top of its head. The Kingfisher’s bill is long, heavy, and dagger-like, mostly black with a grey base. The Belted Kingfisher gives an unnerving mechanical rattle-call, and may scream when threatened.

The Belted Kingfisher is characterised by a vibrant slate blue head, back, and wings, with a white underside. Think back to the 1986 Birds of Canada $5 banknote, which featured a Belted Kingfisher on the back, and you may recall the similar hues of blue that were appropriately chosen. The males are distinguishable by a single, broad, blue breast-band below a white collar. Females also have a second rusty band on their breast, spaced slightly below the upper blue one. As with many species, the Belted Kingfisher exhibits sexual dichromatism, though it is uncommon to see the female more brightly coloured than the male.

belted kingfisher distribution map

The Belted Kingfisher exhibits very interesting hunting habits. They have the ability to hover in place with their bill pointed downwards, scouting for prey, and diving head-first when ready. They are often spotted on perches (trees, docks, etc) alongside streams, lakes, and estuaries. They are known to prey on small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, small reptiles, and even small mammals. Some say that the Belted Kingfisher also dives into water to avoid being attacked by hawks.

The range of the Belted Kingfisher is from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic and south to Central America. Breeding habitat is near inland water bodies or coasts throughout its summer range. This species nests in burrows excavated into the soft silty banks alongside or over water. The burrows are known to slant upwards in order to create and air pocket which protects the chicks in case of flooding. Both male and female dig the burrow, share the task of incubating between five and eight eggs, and feeding the young.

Thanks again to Sandy Stewart for her excellent contribution to our Wetlands of British Columbia Flickr community. Check out some other great photos that she has to offer on her Flickr photostream here.

Check out this YouTube video of a Belted Kingfisher hunting in a calm wetland.

Reference: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

One thought on “Species Profile: Belted Kingfisher

  1. Just wanted to “thank you so much” for so kindly featuring my photo and a special “thank you to Graeme Budge for his interesting written information on the Belte Kingfisher, as well as photo critique.

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