Belted Kingfisher

Photo Credit: Alan Murphy

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ceryle alcyon

OTHER NAMES: Kingfisher

STATUS: Breeder. Common in all seasons and regions. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.

DESCRIPTION: A stocky, medium-sized bird that stands up to 13 inches in height with a large head, oversized dagger-like bill and a ragged crest.  It is the only kingfisher seen in most of North America.  Both sexes have a blue crest, white belly, and slate-blue breast belt from which the species gets its common name.  Females also have an additional rust-brown belly-band and rust-brown sides.  Males lack the rust belly-band and sides.

DISTRIBUTION:  The species is found throughout most of North America and is a fairly common bird along Alabama waterways. Breeds from southern Alaska and Canada, south through most of the continental U.S.  Winter range is essentially the lower half of the continental U.S. into Mexico.

HABITAT:  Kingfishers inhabit areas along lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, marshes, swamps and tidal flats.  Belted kingfishers can be found in Alabama almost anywhere there is water and a source of fish.

FEEDING HABITS: As their name suggests, they feed almost totally on fish smaller than four inches, and occasionally prey upon crabs, salamanders, lizards and small mammals.  Kingfishers often hover over water where fish are visible, then dive vertically for their prey.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:Kingfishers are loud, showy birds that are seldom confused with other species.  Most people enjoy watching kingfishers because of their gregarious, almost comical nature and appearance.  Individual birds may be loyal to a regular area along a streambank or lakeshore, and often jealously patrol this area using the same series of perches.  

Their call is a loud distinctive dry rattle, which is often given on the wing when the birds are disturbed.  They are usually solitary, except during the nesting season.  Kingfishers are year-round residents of Alabama.  They nest in tunnels dug several feet into a steep mud or gravel bank, where five to eight white eggs are laid in an unlined nest.  The Belted Kingfisher is a protected nongame bird, and no hunting of the species is allowed.   

CONSERVATION STATUS :  This species is classified as moderate conservation concern. The Belted Kingfisher was selected as the signature species for the North Alabama Birding Trail and its image is found on the trail logo, signs, guides and webpages.

Author:  Keith Hudson, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries