By Tom Dennis
Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
My wife Laurie and I were recently escorted along the Black River Oxbow by a male Belted Kingfisher. As we paddled our tandem kayak quietly through the still water, he zig-zagged ahead of us occasionally making his raucous rattling call, beckoning us to follow and watch as he attacked the water to catch his lunch of small fish. He seemed to enjoy leading us along on our journey, as long as we respected his space! These beautiful birds are easy to identify and fun to watch so let’s take a closer look.
Belted Kingfishers are medium-sized, stocky birds weighing in at a hefty four to six ounces. They appear to be front-loaded with their large head and heavy black, dagger-like bill. In my opinion, the females have more coloration than males, a rarity in the bird world however, the blue tones in males is noticeably brighter. Both sexes have a bluish-gray head with their distinctive bushy crest, bluish-gray back and wings and black and white bars on the tail feathers. The undersides are bright white with the female showing a chestnut brown band across the breast and along the flanks. They also sport my favorite apparel, a blue bowtie setting off a white collar; some may refer to this as their belt. If you get a close up look, you may see a small white dot in front of each eye.
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These birds breed throughout North America near inland bodies of water or along coastlands. They excavate along banks or in sand, digging long horizontal nesting tunnels that often slope upward (thought to provide air pockets to protect young during flooding) and the nests are usually devoid of any soft nesting materials. Mankind has assisted with additional nesting habitat when mining for gravel or making piles of soft earth. Nesting pairs work together to build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed the young. We are located on the northern edge of their year-round range and some kingfishers stay as long as open water remains to support feeding requirements. Some winter migrants travel as far south as the northern coast of South America.
They feed primarily on small fish but will also eat amphibians, small crustaceans such as crayfish, insects, small mammals, and reptiles. They are often seen perching on trees, posts, powerlines, or other watchpoints close to water into which they dive headfirst after their fish prey. They will also dive into water to avoid hawks and other predators. Their eyes have specially designed lenses that allow them to focus both in and out of water!
If you’ve never seen a Belted Kingfisher our would like to get re-acquainted, you’re welcome to join us as we lead Ross Bible Church on an “eco-tour” of the Black River Oxbow on Saturday, August 24th at 10AM, starting at Baker’s Field at the end of Strawberry Lane in Port Huron Township. Kayak rentals will be available and if you are interested contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for complete details.
If you wish to learn more about birds you are welcome to attend Blue Water Audubon meetings held at The Point, 5085 Lakeshore Rd, in Fort Gratiot on the first Monday of the month (alternate evenings will be scheduled during election months), October through May at 6:45 PM. Please visit our Facebook page, “Blue Water Audubon Society”, and be sure to friend us.
Tom Dennis is a freelance writer, passionate birder, zoologist, creation scientist, and naturalist.