Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher - Ceryle alcyon

Usually I only see one kingfisher at a time on the Elbow River, but this year I observed a courtship display. The male pursued the female back and forth over the river, and both birds were oblivious to my presence, which is unusual. Usually the kingfisher leaves an area as soon as I arrive. I did not observe the end of the courtship, which concludes with a feeding display. The female sits upright with her bill in the air, wings drooped and quivering, and gives a begging call. After the male presents her with a fish, they mate.

Both sexes build the nest. Belted Kingfishers nest in a riverside bank and spend a week excavating a tunnel nest that is 2 inches diameter by 10 feet long! The tunnel is horizontal or angled upward and ends in a rounded chamber. The nesting locations are often shared by Bank Swallows.

These birds feed almost exclusively on small fish that are captured underwater. Mostly the kingfisher hunts from a perch but these birds also cruise the river and can hover hunt. Once a suitable fish is spotted, a kingfisher dives head first into the water and emerges with the fish between the massive bill. Back at the perch, the fish is killed, often by bashing the head against the perch, and then swallowed.

Belted Kingfishers teach the young to fish by dropping dead prey into the water for retrieval. 

This year I have noted the kingfishers to hunt from a variety of perches. The perches are chosen based on the location of the sun and the turbidity of the water. During spring runoff and after the flood, when the water was a dirty brown, the kingfishers chose perches along shallow tributaries with slower moving water, which provides clearer water and better visibility.


The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta. Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 2007.

Baicich PJ, Harrison CJO. Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Princeton UP. 2005.

Beadle D, Rising J. Sparrows of the United States and Canada. Princeton UP. 2003.

Fisher C, Acorn J. Birds of Alberta. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton. 1998.

Sibley David A. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Alfred A Knopf, Inc. New York. 2001.

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