You do not have to spend much time fishing North America’s rivers and shorelines before you will hear the distinct rattling call of the Belted Kingfisher. They are very wide spread across the continent but they do have a few needs that must be met.
The Belted Kingfisher is a bank nester. In needs to have sandy or earthen banks where it can excavate a nest. The excavation is typically about 2 meters long but may exceed four meters. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to dig the nest. While most nests are found close to water it is not necessary. Some have been found quite a distance away from the water's edge. And a few, truth be told, have even been found to nest in tree cavities.
Without suitable nesting areas the birds will not stay in an area during the breeding season although they may return to after the young have fledged. Once a suitable nest has been made, five to eight eggs are laid and both sexes incubate them.
Access to their prey is also crucial for the birds to stay in an area. They feed primarily on small fish either; minnows or the fry of other species. Other prey, including crustaceans, insects, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles will be taken. They typically hunt from a perch located above the water or they hover over a spot where prey is visible. To catch their prey the birds dive beak first into the water. A kingfisher may be underwater for several seconds. If it succeeds in catching its prey it will take it to a branch and beat it senseless. Once the prey is subdued it tosses it in the air and swallows it head first.
Obviously in order to get their prey the species requires open water. Winter forces more northly birds to migrate to areas where they can still hunt. In the warmer southern portion of their range many kingfisher pairs are resident year round. Sexual dimorphism is evident when the larger males are seen perched by their females. Both sexes have blue bands (belts) around their chest but only the female has a chestnut belt around the lower part of her chest.
The Belted Kingfisher is a member of a small group of birds in the Order Coraciiformes. Being somewhat biased by my experiences with this bird I have been pleasantly surprised on my travels to meet other kingfishers (there are 90+ species) to found around the world on every continent but Antarctica. Surprisingly most species are tropical and unlike the kingfishers I see many species do not prey on fish but rather on terrestrial insects. The largest of them all is the one that sits in the “old gum tree”, Australia’s Kookaburra.
Many are vividly coloured, a far cry from the subdued blue grey of the Belted Kingfisher. But all of the members are short-legged and long billed.
In Ontario, where I live, I look forward to their return each spring. Their presence never fails to enrich my time on the rivers and lakes. They are a good indicator of a healthy water system and I suspect are a good omen for anglers.
Note: A version of this article first appeared in Bob Izumi's Real Fishing Magazine in
Dave's column At the Water's Edge. It is used with the permission of editor.
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