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  • Writer's pictureTerry Wise

Can Always Hear Him; Now Finally Saw Him!

Some birds are often heard before they are seen! The Belted Kingfisher is one of those birds. They give strident, penetrating, mechanical squawk or rattle. Here is a link to the sounds of the Belted Kingfisher.

Finally, there he was perched in a willow tree within reach of me and my camera. And voila, I was able to photograph him.

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. 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.

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.

They 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.

Belted Kingfishers are more commonly migrants throughout Illinois. The breeding range of the Belted Kingfisher extends from western Alaska, throughout Canada and across the northern U.S. Belted Kingfishers spend most of the year alone until they pair up during the breeding season - hence, the single bird on Carillon Stonegate Pond.

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!

  • 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.

As bird migration is in full force this September, Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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