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February 2016: Belted Kingfisher

male belted kingfisher 

Photo: Kevin Cole
Belted Kingfisher
Megaceryle alcyon

Who am I?

 You have probably seen or heard me around your local stream, river, creek or pond. I am brightly colored with a big head and short stout body. I fly really fast and rattle loudly when I am flying. We are abundant and widespread throughout the United States, though we are solitary critters so you will not find large groups of us together -- we need and defend a fairly large territory to make sure we have enough food for ourselves and our family. My mate and I will get together in the spring, in early April, and build a den in the bank of a stream, pond, road cut -- wherever there are not a lot of trees. Our dens are underground and can go up to 8 feet into the bank ending in a small chamber just large enough to hold our little family. My mate will lay 5-8 eggs, perhaps twice a year and our babies will hatch out in a little less than a month. Three weeks later we sill stop feeding the little ones and they are on their own.

Where can you find me?

 Near water. Any water; streams, creeks ponds, lakes, estuaries -- anywhere there are small fish to eat. We really like beaver ponds. We can be found throughout North America, living year-round in most of the lower United States and migrating from Canada south to Mexico and Central America whe the ponds freeze over.

What do I eat?

 Mostly fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic animals. I will hang out on a branch overlooking the water looking for lunch. Then I leap off the perch and dive straight into the water. Sometimes I will hover over the water like an Osprey and strike from there. 

What might eat me?

 My young and I can be eaten by raccoon and foxes. Our eggs and babies are especially vulnerable to snakes. Those nasty hawks and owls will try to eat us as well.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • Females are, unusually, more colorful than males. Look for the brownish-red band across the female's chest.
  • We are fun to watch when we are fishing. Oh and when we are choosing out mate which entails a lot of rattling, a silly dance and a fish for a gift.
  • To avoid hawks we will sometimes dive into the water there the hawk cannot follow.
  • Like owls we regurgitate the parts of the fish we cannot digest -- kingfisher pellets.
  • Our family of birds dates back at least 2 million years.

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