3 minute read

Kingfishers: Alcedinidae

Belted Kingfisher (megaceryle Alcyon): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Belted kingfishers are large kingfishers with a stocky blue-gray body, white breast and collar, and large head. It is one of the few North American birds in which females are more colorful than males. Males have blue-gray upperparts with a plain blue-gray band across the breast and appear to have a big head with a large bill and shaggy, double-pointed crest. A white spot appears around its eyes. Females have a blue-gray breast band with a rufous band below. In flight, it shows a white patch on the upper wing. Juveniles of both sexes resemble adult females. They are 11 to 13 inches (28 to 33 centimeters) long, about 20 inches (51 centimeters) in wing span, and weigh between 4 and 6.3 ounces (113 and 178 grams).

Belted kingfishers eat mainly fish, and often plunge headfirst into the water, catching most prey within 2 feet (60 centimeters) of the surface. (Scott Nielsen/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Geographic range: Belted kingfishers are found across the north-central United States and southern Canada, and south throughout the United States, except for southwestern and far south-central regions and southern Florida. During the summer breeding season, belted kingfishers migrate from about 65° north latitude to nearly the Arctic Circle. During nonbreeding winter, the birds migrate to the southwestern United States and central America, south to the Galápagos Islands and Guyana.

Habitat: Belted kingfishers are found around wooded freshwater bodies such as lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and estuaries or calm marine waters. They range from the seashore to 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level. During nonbreeding seasons, they gather in mangroves, coasts, watercourses in open country, marshes, and offshore islands.

Diet: Belted kingfishers eat fish, but also take amphibians, reptiles, insects, crustaceans, crayfish, mollusks, small mammals, young birds, and berries. They hunt in the late morning or afternoon. Sometimes the birds follow egrets for prey that they disturb. They hunt for food by either perching from trees or by hovering from 20 to 49 feet (6 to 15 meters) above streams or ponds. Often, they plunge headfirst into waters, catching most prey within 2 feet (60 centimeters) of the surface. They pound captured prey against their perch with sideways head movements.

Behavior and reproduction: Belted kingfishers fly with irregular wing beats. They are easily seen in tree perches that overlook water or on coastal rocks. Their territorial call is a long, uneven rattle. They also have a higher, shorter, more musical trill sound.

Belted kingfishers are monogamous birds, with both parents helping to dig out a tunnel and nest in an earthen bank that is within easy reach of water. They usually dig down from 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 meters) below the ground surface but can go down to 15 feet (4 meters), with a nest cavity of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) in diameter. Females lay from five to eight eggs, which are incubated between twenty-two and twenty-four days and nested between twenty-seven and thirty-five days. Males and females share incubation (sitting on eggs), brooding (providing warmth and shelter by gathering chicks under the breast or wing), and feeding duties. They have from one to two broods (groups of young birds) per year.

Belted kingfishers and people: Before regulations, people sometimes hunted belted kingfishers when they fed on fish stocks at fish hatcheries and along trout streams.

Conservation status: Belted kingfishers are not threatened. They are widespread and common in many areas, being more resistant to pollution than most other kingfishers. ∎



Alsop, Fred J. III. Birds of North America. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2001.

AOU Check-list of North American Birds, 7th ed. Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists' Union, 1998.

Elphick, Chris, John B. Dunning Jr., and David Allen Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Birds, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998.

Kaufman, Kenn. Birds of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Perrins, Christopher M., and Alex L. A. Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, 1985.

Web sites:

Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group. http://www.coraciiformestag.com (accessed on July 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsKingfishers: Alcedinidae - Physical Characteristics, Geographic Range, Behavior And Reproduction, Laughing Kookaburra (dacelo Novaeguineae): Species Accounts - HABITAT, DIET, KINGFISHERS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS