Belted Kingfisher

Common Name: Belted Kingfisher.

Scientific Name: Megaceryle Alcyon.

What to look for?  Belted Kingfishers are stocky, large-headed birds. Their head and bill are large in proportion to body size. They have a notable “spiked” or shaggy crest of blue-gray feathers on the top and back of the head. And they have a straight, thick, dagger-like pointed bill. Their square-tipped tails are medium in length. Belted Kingfishers are blue-gray above with fine, white spotting on the wings and tail. The underparts are white with a broad, blue-gray breast band. In addition to this blue-gray breast band, females also have a broad rusty band on their bellies. And their legs are short.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can occasionally find a Belted Kingfisher around here during spring and fall migration (although these phots were in mid-December of 2021) perching in a tree or diving into the shallow edge of our ponds. You may hear its squawk before you see one.

How big are they? The Belted Kingfisher averages around twelve (12) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately twenty-one (21) inches. They weigh in at around five (5) ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Belted Kingfishers are fast, agile flyers, covering impressive distances between hunting areas. They often hover above clear water looking for fish. When alarmed or being territorial, their flight can be somewhat of an erratic pattern.

How else do they behave? Belted Kingfishers spend much of their time perched in a tree along the edges of ponds and lakes searching for small fish. They also fly quickly up and down shorelines giving loud rattling calls. They hunt by plunging directly from a perch. Or they may hover over the water before diving after a fish that they’ve spotted. Belted Kingfishers vigorously defend their territory by chasing away intruders while giving loud rattle calls. When a Belted Kingfisher is threatened, it may scream and spread its wings.

What’s for dinner? Belted Kingfishers live mostly on a diet of small fish. They also eat crayfish and may eat other crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and even berries.

Where do they take up residence? Belted Kingfishers are common along streams and shorelines across most of North America. They are more commonly migrants throughout Illinois. Kingfishers live near streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and estuaries.

When and where do they breed and nest? The breeding range of the Belted Kingfisher extends from western Alaska, throughout Canada and across the U.S., except the southwest. Belted Kingfishers spend most of the year alone until they pair up during the breeding season. They are monogamous within each breeding season but form new pairs every year. The nest site is in steep or vertical dirt bank, where they dig a long (3 - 6 feet) horizontal tunnel with nest chamber at end. Females lay up to six (6) or more eggs. Incubation is completed in approximately twenty-one days. The young leave the nest about four (4) weeks after hatching and are fed by parents for about another three (3) weeks before they are fully fledged.

Where do they migrate? The migration habits of Belted Kingfishers range from being a permanent   resident to that of a long-distance migrant. It all depends upon the availability of open water in the winter, so kingfishers may feed on fish. Birds nesting in the northern states and Canada move southward in winter.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern. Belted Kingfishers are common and widespread. Although, as with many species of birds, their populations declined over the last five decades by an estimated 53% according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 1.7 million. With 70% of Belted Kingfishers spending some of the year in the U.S., 49% in Canada, and 19% wintering in Mexico. They rate an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Partner's in Flight lists them as a Common Bird in Steep Decline. Belted Kingfisher populations are limited by the number of earthen banks available for nesting.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Belted Kingfishers are often heard before they are seen! They give strident, penetrating, mechanical squawk or rattle. Here is a link to the sounds of the Belted Kingfisher.

Interesting Facts About the Belted Kingfisher:

  • The Belted Kingfisher is under consideration as the mascot for the University of Illinois.

  • Like some in our community, Belted Kingfishers wander widely, sometimes showing up in the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, the British Isles, the Azores, Iceland, Greenland, and the Netherlands.

  • Pleistocene fossils of Belted Kingfishers – some as old as 600,000 years - have been unearthed in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas.

  • The oldest fossil recorded for a kingfisher is about 2 million years old! 

  • The Belted Kingfisher is one of the few bird species where the female is more brightly colored than the male.

  • Belted Kingfishers have been known to share their tunnels with swallows – a true “Air”bnb, who dig out small rooms tucked in the tunnel walls.

 

For more information on the Belted Kingfisher and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, Illinois DNR, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and Bird Watchers Digest.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!