Bird Lore: Belted Kingfisher

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One of our Edmonds residents is the Belted Kingfisher. When seen, it is usually along the waterfront, particularly around the marina and the public pier, or at the marsh. One is often photographed atop the fish sculptures on the north breakwater.

The Belted Kingfisher is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. It is a migratory species in colder areas of the continent. Where lakes ice over, in August or early September the kingfisher heads for Mexico, the Caribbean, and northern South America.

The adult male is a slate blue and white bird with a large, dagger bill. The female is the same but with the addition of rust flanks and a rust band on her chest, as illustrated in LeRoy’s second photo. This bird’s shaggy crest is a signature feature.

Diet of the Belted Kingfisher is mostly small fish, those less than 5 inches long. It also eats frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, and aquatic insects. The kingfisher forages by plunging head first into the water, capturing fish near the surface with its bill. It perches above the water or hovers before diving for prey. As do owl species, the kingfisher regurgitates, in the form of pellets, indigestible parts of its prey.

The Belted Kingfisher is solitary except during breeding season. In courtship, the male brings fish to the female and feeds her. This species nests in a steep bank that has a higher content of sand than of clay. Both sexes dig a horizontal tunnel, 3 – 6 feet in length, with a nest chamber at the end. The nest is not lined with any particular materials but the chamber does accumulate debris and undigested fish bones. There are usually 6 – 7 eggs, incubated by both sexes for 22 – 24 days. The young remain in the nest for about 27 days while both parents feed them. They first eat partially digested fish. As they develop, the parents bring them whole fish. The parents continue to feed the fledglings for another three weeks.

You can listen to the chattering rattle of three kingfishers at this site: http://www.xeno-canto.org/132873.

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve been lucky enough to catch one as it tucked its wings to dive. They are a colorful bird, but fast. In my experience, they don’t sit still very long. Nice pix Leroy!

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