Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Length: 13″; Wingspan: 20″; Weight: 5 oz.
Along any of Seabrook Island’s lagoons, ponds, lakes or other waterways you may hear a very distinctive loud rattling call, a flash of blue and a splash of water as a Belted kingfisher plunges head first into the water catching an un-expecting fish near the surface. Occasionally you may also spot this beautiful medium-sized, brightly colored bird with a very distinct shaggy topknot sitting on an isolated tree branch or dead tree limb over the water’s edge surveying its kingdom.
A very territorial and fearless bird the Belted kingfisher will aggressively protect its territory. I witnessed a female belted kingfisher dive-bomb and chase off a juvenile eagle that dared to sit on a tree branch too close to its lagoon. At the same time these birds are very leery of humans and are difficult to get close to.
Over 90 species of kingfishers occur word-wide but only the Belted kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, is found throughout much of the United States and Canada. Here they breed and are year-round residents. It is even depicted on the Canadian $5 bill.
In winter they migrate south into Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. They occasionally travel great distances and frequent areas such as Colombia, Venezuela and have been recorded in Greenland, Ireland, Portugal, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands.
The Belted kingfisher is a stocky bird of about a foot in length with a wingspan of between 19 and 23 inches. It has a shaggy multi-pointed crest or topknot, a thick pointed bill and is one of the few birds where the female is more colorful than the male. Females are also slightly larger than males.
The head and body are slate blue. There is a white collar around its neck and a dark blue breast band on its white belly. Whereas all young birds have an orange or brownish-red band on the upper belly only the female keeps the band and as with all her plumage brightens as she matures. Have you ever wondered why the female of this bird species has more coloration than the male? Scientists have yet to answer the question, but here is one suggestion.
The Blue jay with its bright blue plumage is the only Seabrook Island bird somewhat similar in appearance. However, it is smaller, more slender, has a single pointed head crest, a smaller bill and a thin black collar around its neck.
Although primarily a fish eater the Belted kingfisher eats a wide variety of prey including insects, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles., mollusks and even small birds and mammals.
They nest near inland waterbodies in the spring, digging and excavating a long nesting burrow in the mud or sand along the waters’ edge. The tunnel angles up so that should the water rise an air pocket would protect the eggs and young birds. The female lays five to eight oval, pure white eggs and both sexes incubate the eggs.
Keep your eye out for this very unique bird along Seabrook Islands many waterways but you may hear its loud piercing and rattling call as it streaks across its kingdom long before you can spot it.
If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:
Article submitted by: Charles Moore
Photographs provided by: Charles Moore
This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents. When possible we will use photographs taken by our members. Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.