Belted Kingfisher (M. alcyon)

“Belted kingfishers are one of the few birds to nest on the ground, where they excavate a tunnel into a sandy bank.”


The Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) scientific classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Alcedinidae
  • Genus: Megaceryle
  • Species: M. alcyon

As for its conservation status, the Belted Kingfisher is categorized as “Least Concern,” meaning it is not currently facing significant threats to its population.

In terms of habitat, the Belted Kingfisher can be found in Central America and North America. It is often spotted near bodies of water such as rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas where it hunts for fish, its primary food source.

The Belted Kingfisher is fascinating! Here are some key facts about this striking bird:

  • Prey: Belted Kingfishers primarily feed on fish, but they also consume crustaceans, lizards, and small mammals.
  • Name of Young: The young ones of Belted Kingfishers are called chicks or nestlings.
  • Estimated Population Size: Approximately 1.7 million Belted Kingfishers are estimated to be in existence.
  • Distinctive Feature: One of the distinctive features of Belted Kingfishers is the red band on their belly.
  • Wingspan: They typically have a wingspan ranging from 18 to 23 inches.
  • Incubation Period: The incubation period for Belted Kingfisher eggs is around 22 to 24 days.
  • Age of Fledgling: Belted Kingfisher fledglings usually leave the nest at around 27 to 29 days after hatching.
  • Average Spawn Size: A typical clutch of Belted Kingfisher eggs consists of 5 to 8 eggs.
  • Diet: Belted Kingfishers are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of foods including fish, crustaceans, lizards, and small mammals.

Moving on to their physical characteristics:

  • Color: Belted Kingfishers have a striking combination of colors including grey, red, blue, black, and white.
  • Skin Type: Like all birds, Belted Kingfishers have feathers covering their body.
  • Lifespan: On average, Belted Kingfishers live for around 14 years.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 55 ounces.
  • Height: Belted Kingfishers stand at around 12.5 inches tall.
  • Venomous: Belted Kingfishers are not venomous.
  • Aggression: Their aggression level is generally low.

These features make the Belted Kingfisher a remarkable and adaptable species in its natural habitat.

The Belted Kingfisher is quite big and not hard to find, as long as you know where to search. While all kingfishers used to be thought of as part of one big family, new studies have shown that they’re not as closely linked as we once believed. It seems that their name might be a bit misleading when it comes to their family ties.

Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)

3 Amazing Belted Kingfisher Facts

  1. Sexual Dimorphism: In a unique twist compared to many other bird species, female Belted Kingfishers actually boast more colorful markings than their male counterparts.
  2. Excavators: Instead of building nests in trees like many birds, a mated pair of Belted Kingfishers will dig a tunnel into a sandy bank, sloping slightly uphill. At the end of this tunnel, they create their nest. This uphill angle helps create an air pocket within the tunnel, providing a safety measure in case of flooding.
  3. Territorial Behavior: During mating season, Belted Kingfishers can become quite territorial. Sometimes, they may even dive at humans who encroach on their territory, displaying an assertive defense of their nesting sites.
See also  Baya (Ploceus philippinus)

Where to Find the Belted Kingfisher

The range of Belted Kingfishers can be a bit perplexing, as not all of them undertake migrations, but some do. Their habitats vary from year-round residency to seasonal migrations, depending on the location.

These birds are found across a wide range of water bodies throughout North America, including oceans, ponds, and lakes, as long as there’s ample access to fish, their primary food source.

For those residing in the northern reaches of their range, migration becomes necessary as winter approaches and water bodies freeze over. These individuals journey southward to warmer climates, such as Mexico, the southern United States, Central America, and the West Indies. During migration, some Belted Kingfishers might veer off course and find themselves on remote islands far from the mainland.

Conversely, in the southernmost areas where they reside, some Belted Kingfishers may migrate northward during the summer months. However, this behavior is less common compared to their northern counterparts. The southernmost extent of their range reaches Ecuador, where occasional migrations northward may occur every few years.

Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)

Belted Kingfisher Nests

Belted Kingfishers indeed have a unique nesting behavior compared to many other bird species. Instead of constructing nests in trees, they opt for a more unconventional approach by excavating tunnels into the sides of riverbanks or sandbanks. This excavation work is a joint effort between both parents, who work together to create the tunnel.

Once the tunnel is complete, the female lays her eggs inside, and then both parents take turns incubating the eggs. This collaborative effort ensures the safety and care of the eggs until they hatch. This nesting behavior showcases the adaptability and resourcefulness of Belted Kingfishers in utilizing their environment to create suitable nesting sites.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Belted Kingfisher is indeed Megaceryle alcyon, but it didn’t always go by this name. Originally, it was classified as Alcedo alcyon. However, in 1848, its scientific name was changed.

The term “Megaceryle” is derived from “mega” and “ceryle,” the latter being an existing genus. “Alcyon” translates to “kingfisher” in Latin.

As a genus, Megaceryle encompasses larger species of kingfishers found across the globe, totaling four different species.

The Belted Kingfisher belongs to the family Alcedinidae, commonly known as the kingfisher family. As the name suggests, this family comprises kingfishers of various sizes and shapes, totaling 19 genera and 114 species.

Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

The Belted Kingfisher, while technically categorized as “medium-sized” among birds, is still quite sizable, measuring between 11 to 14 inches in length and boasting a wingspan ranging from 19 to 23 inches. Its weight typically falls between 4.0 to 6.3 ounces, with females often slightly larger than males.

See also  Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor, Atticora fasciata)

Sporting a distinctive long black bill tailored for catching fish, the Belted Kingfisher features a prominent shaggy crest atop its large head, a characteristic shared by many kingfisher species.

What’s particularly intriguing about this species is its reverse sexual dimorphism, where females exhibit larger size and more vivid coloring compared to males—a rarity in the animal kingdom. Both genders sport a blue head, a blue breast band, and a white collar, while their wings and bodies range from dark grey to slate blue. Notably, females possess an additional orange or rust-colored band across their upper belly, distinguishing them from males.

Juvenile Belted Kingfishers closely resemble adults, though they all initially resemble females until reaching sexual maturity. In juveniles, the red band may appear mottled in males, while it might be smaller in females.

These birds are often seen perching on high vantage points near water bodies, scanning for fish before swiftly diving in to catch their prey. Their distinctive rattling call echoes through the air as they fly around, not just hunting but also maintaining their territory.

Regarding migration, Belted Kingfishers don’t adhere to a strict schedule like some bird species. Only certain individuals migrate, typically when water bodies start freezing over. In areas where water remains accessible, migration may not occur. The timing and destination of migration vary based on local conditions, with some birds traveling far out to sea or even reaching distant islands or Europe. While southern populations occasionally migrate, the reasons behind these sporadic migrations remain unclear.

Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)

Belted Kingfisher Diet

Belted Kingfishers are primarily fish-eaters, employing a patient hunting strategy from elevated perches near water bodies. However, they’re not picky eaters and display opportunistic feeding behaviors, consuming a diverse array of prey.

Their primary diet consists of fish, which they hunt by scanning the water from a high vantage point until they spot a suitable target. Despite their piscivorous tendencies, they readily consume other prey items when available. These can include amphibians, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, and small mammals.

While their preferred hunting grounds are typically near water, where fish are abundant, Belted Kingfishers won’t hesitate to seize opportunities presented by other vulnerable prey. This adaptability allows them to exploit a variety of food sources, ensuring their survival even in environments where fish might be scarce.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

As of now, the Belted Kingfisher population is classified as “Least Concern,” indicating that there’s no significant decline in their numbers, which currently stand at approximately 1.7 million individuals.

Though this figure may seem substantial, it’s essential to consider that Belted Kingfishers are territorial birds. This territorial behavior means there’s a limit to how many individuals can inhabit a given area of land. Additionally, since they typically reside near water bodies, their habitat options are further constrained despite their wide range.

In terms of predators, Belted Kingfishers face relatively few threats. Their primary predator is hawks, which may target them as prey. However, Belted Kingfishers have evolved defensive strategies to evade such predators, including diving into the water repeatedly until the hawk gives up its pursuit. Additionally, snakes and certain mammals, such as cats, may also pose a threat to these birds. Despite these predation risks, Belted Kingfishers have managed to maintain a stable population overall.

See also  Mockingbird
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)
Belted Kingfisher (M. Alcyon)

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

After mating, a mated pair of Belted Kingfishers embark on an extraordinary nesting process. They dig a tunnel into the side of a riverbank or sandbank, with the tunnel slightly sloping uphill. While the exact reason for this uphill slope isn’t fully understood, it likely serves to create an air pocket within the tunnel, providing a crucial survival mechanism in case of flooding. This air bubble allows the chicks to remain safe and dry even if the tunnel becomes submerged.

Once the tunnel excavation is complete, the female lays a clutch of five to eight eggs inside. Unlike many bird species where only the female incubates the eggs, both adult Belted Kingfishers take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding the young. This cooperative effort ensures the well-being of the offspring during the incubation period, which lasts for about 22 to 24 days.

During this time, the nesting pair becomes exceptionally territorial, vigorously defending their nest site against predators and other birds. They may even exhibit aggressive behavior towards humans who venture too close.

After hatching, the nestling period lasts for a similar duration, typically around 27 to 29 days. As the chicks are fed by their parents, the accumulation of fish bones, scales, and other debris within the nest provides additional insulation and protection, creating a cozy shelter for the growing young. This intricate nesting behavior highlights the Belted Kingfisher’s remarkable adaptations for survival in its aquatic habitat.

Population

As of now, the population of Belted Kingfishers stands at a stable figure of approximately 1.7 million birds. However, it’s important to note that there haven’t been extensive or recent population studies conducted to provide more detailed insights into their numbers and trends.

While the current population estimate offers a general understanding of the species’ abundance, further research and monitoring efforts would be beneficial to assess any potential changes or threats to their population dynamics. These studies could provide valuable data for conservation efforts aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of Belted Kingfisher populations.

Before You Go…

The Belted Kingfisher is a remarkable bird known for its distinctive appearance, unique nesting behavior, and adept fishing skills. With its characteristic rattling call and territorial nature, this species occupies a diverse range of aquatic habitats across North and Central America. While currently classified as “Least Concern” with a stable population of around 1.7 million individuals, continued research and conservation efforts are essential to safeguard the Belted Kingfisher’s habitat and ensure its continued presence in our ecosystems.

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