Skip to main content

Dig Imperial Beach

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Belted Kingfisher

Mar 23, 2017 12:30PM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Belted Kingfisher

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), a large, conspicuous water kingfishe, and is depicted on the 1986 Canadian $5 note. The Belted Kingfisher is often first noticed by its wild rattling call as it flies over rivers or lakes. It may be seen perched on a high snag, or hovering on rapidly beating wings, then plunging headfirst into the water to grab a fish. Found almost throughout North America at one season or another, it is the only member of its family to be seen in most areas north of Mexico. Recent surveys indicate declines in their population. They may be vulnerable to loss of nesting sites and to disturbance during the breeding season.

Habitat is by streams, lakes, bays, and on the coast where it nests on banks. During winter and 

migration, they may be found in almost any waterside habitat, including the edges of small streams and ponds, large rivers and lakes, marshes, estuaries, and rocky coastlines. They seem to require only clear water for fishing. During the breeding season, they are more restricted to areas with suitable dirt banks for nesting holes.

Belted Kingfishers forage by plunging headfirst into water, capturing fish near the surface with their bills. They watch for fish from a branch, wire, rock, or other perch above water, or may hover above water before diving. Bones, scales, and other indigestible parts of prey are coughed up later as pellets. Diet is mostly small fish, usually those less than 4-5" long. They also eat crayfish, frogs, tadpoles, and aquatic insects, occasionally taking prey away from the water, including small mammals, young birds, and lizards, and reportedly eat berries at times.

After mating, females lay 6-7, sometimes 5-8, white eggs. Incubation is by both sexes in about 22-24 days. Females incubate at night, with males taking over early in morning; males may or may not do less of incubation than females. Both parents feed their young at first, giving them partially digested fish, and later whole fish. Males may make more feeding visits than females. Young depart from nest in about 27-29 days after hatching, and are fed by parents for about another 3 weeks. Belted Kingfishers yield one brood per year, perhaps sometimes two in the south.

In courtship display, males bring fish, and feed it to females. Nest sites are in steep or vertical dirt banks, usually with a higher content of sand than clay. Both sexes take part in digging a long horizontal tunnel with the nest chamber at one end. The tunnel is generally 3-6' long and usually slopes upward from the entrance. Rarely nests are in a tree cavity. Usually no lining is added to the nest chamber, but debris and undigested fish bones and scales may accumulate.

Belted Kingfishers are finicky when approached, and are  difficult to photograph. I have seen several of these in our own Tijuana Estuary recently fishing in the Tijuana River tributaries there. If you are lucky, you may spot one of these while hiking or biking there. Until next week, good birding!


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or Bird of the Week


Bryan Brillhart




Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Dig Imperial Beach's free newsletter to catch every headline