Introducing the Belted Kingfisher
“A kingfisher’s burnished plunge, the color of felicity afire” (The Kingfisher, Amy Clampitt)
A swift flash of colour over the water and a loud rattling call – the Belted Kingfisher has moved on before you’ve really seen it. Fortunately, you’ll have better luck spotting them when they’re perched on a branch looking for fish or diving headfirst into the water below in search of fish or crayfish.
Belted Kingfisher can be found near lakes, rivers, and ponds across Canada during the summer breeding season and year-round along the coasts where there is open water year-round. They have a blue-grey body (11-14 in, wingspan of 19-23 in), a white chest, and a large head with a shaggy crest and dagger-like bill. Females have blue and chestnut bands across their breast; males only have a blue band.
These experts fishers can fly very fast in a straight line but may hover for extended periods over water as they search for prey. Once the prey is spotted, they dive headfirst into the water to catch their meal.
Belted Kingfisher dig a tunnel 1-8 ft deep in the banks of rivers or streams with a nesting chamber at the far end. The tunnel slopes upwards so that rainwater won’t collect inside.
Did you know?
There are nearly 100 species of kingfishers, but the Belted Kingfisher is the only one seen in most areas north of Mexico. The greatest variety of kingfishers are found in the tropical regions of Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands.
The Laughing Kookaburra (second photo) is the heaviest member of the kingfisher family. Unlike other kingfishers, it’s a social bird. Older offspring, usually males, live with the mated pair and help with feeding and protecting the nestlings.
Despite their name, not all kingfishers eat fish. Others, particularly forest-dwellers, eat frogs, lizards, snakes, and even small mammals.
Once Belted Kingfisher catch their prey, they return to their perch and beat it against a branch to soften it. Sometimes they throw the prey into the air to reorient it for easier swallowing. They regurgitate pellets of food they can't digest (fish bones and scales, shells).
We still don’t know why the females have the more distinctive markings when in most species the males are the one with brighter colours. Various hypotheses have been put forward. Males are highly territorial, often remaining on their territory year-round to guard it, and the females’ chestnut-coloured stripe may help males to identify them as a welcome visitor to their territory rather than a rival that must be chased away. On the other hand, the added band of colour may be related to the fact that female kingfishers tend to be more aggressive than males and their high testosterone levels may have influenced their colouring.
Charlie Hamilton James started photographing kingfishers when he was 13 years old, and they inspired him to become a photographer. He published Kingfisher: Tales from the Halcyon River in 1980.
Robert Fuller, another British artist, replaced a waterside bank with a garden shed containing a hide and an artificial nest chamber so that he could watch kingfishers inside their underground nest.
For more information on Belted Kingfishers, take a look at EcoFriendly Sask’s Nature Companion app/website for Canada’s four western provinces. Download it for free to your phone or tablet.