Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

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.

January 2016: Bald Eagle

 Juvenile Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus 

Who am I?

You know me. I am your national bird! No I did not get my name because the white feathers on my head make me look bald. I am piebald, yes PIEBALD -- meaning I am two colored, white and brown. At least I am when I grow up. When I am young I look kinda splotchy. I will be five years old when I finally am PIEBALD. This time of year I might be hanging out by myself. Soon I will find my mate and we will begin to rebuild our nest. In the winter I will lay two or three eggs and after a bit more than a month they will hatch. My mate and I will take care of them for the next three months, feeding them and guarding the nest. I am very territorial and will fight other eagles that enter my turf during the breeding season. I do not sound like you might think. I make a squeeky chirp like sound. Quite different than your movies might make you think.

Where can you find me?

 I can be found throughout North America, from Mexico to Alaska. If you are looking for me look around rivers, lakes, estuaries and sea shores. I like water.

What do I eat?

 I like fish. Really. Lots of fish. Live fish, dead fish, fish other birds caught that I can steal. Fish. And ducks, but they are harder to catch. If I am really hungry I will scavenge dead critters as well.

What might eat me?

 Nothing. I am on top of the food web. I prey, no one preys on me even my babies. Let 'em try.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • In January I can bee seen locally re-initiating my courtship with my mate and rebuilding our nest.
  • I am the largest raptor in our area with a wing span of over six feet.
  • There are over 500 nesting pair of Bald Eagles in Maryland, about 75 in Saint Mary's County.
  • Pesticides, like DDT, almost wiped me out. I came off the Endangered Species List in 2007, thirty years after the use of DDT was highly restricted.
  • Because I eat ducks and will happily eat those wounded by hunters, I have benefited from the change from lead shot to steel shot.

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