The rattling call of the belted kingfisher is often what attracts our attention to these handsome birds. Found along waterways, they have favorite perches along the edge of the river or lake from which they fish and patrol their territories.
The kingfisher nests in vertical embankments along river or lakeshores. They excavate a long tunnel, sometimes as much as 15 feet long, with an entrance hole located about a foot from the top of the embankment. The tunnel ends in a small chamber that is just slightly larger than the tunnel itself. The eggs are laid on the floor without any additional construction or materials.
The adults guard the nesting territory from favorite perches. Interestingly, these birds may establish a separate feeding territory that doesn't include the nesting burrow. Researchers suggest that this is due to good feeding areas are not always available near good nesting areas.
Territorial kingfishers often fly along the rivershore as a boat approaches, but will soon perch. As the boat approaches again, it will leave the perch calling loudly. This cycle may occur several times until the kingfisher reaches the end of his territory, at which point it will loop back around the boat. A careful observer can often estimate the size of a kingfisher’s territory by watching this behavior.
Kingfishers make spectacular headlong dives into the water to nab their prey, usually small fishes.
A pair of kingfishers can excavate about a foot of nesting tunnel each day.
Belted Kingfisher (Megacyrle alcyon)
Key ID Features: Pigeon-sized. Both sexes alike, but female has rusty belly band.
Present in Park: Year round, as long as there is open water in which to fish. Others migrate south.
Habitat: Wooded shores along rivers and some lakes.
Did You Know?
At Lake Onalaska, near LaCrosse WI, the Mississippi River is about 4 miles wide. The combination of water held behind Lock and Dam #7 and water held by damming the Black River form this broad reach of the Mississippi River.