Just when you think the “color rule” for bird gender identification is clear, along comes the Belted Kingfisher! Both male and female are blue-gray with a white collar, breast and belly. They have a blue-gray band across their upper breast. However, the female is more colorful. She has a chestnut-brown belly band. Sporting crests and large black, spear-like bills, these birds look likely to tip forward.
In September, the Belted Kingfisher is very active protecting their fishing areas. Not only from other Belted Kingfishers, but also from their own fledgling. The adult teaches fishing techniques by dropping dead prey under their perched young. After ten days post-fledging, young birds are expected to catch live prey and are driven from the territory. Often a fish is too long to swallow. You may see Kingfishers with a fish tail hanging out of their bill. These birds have a rapid digestive system which allows the fish to inch down the gullet.
The monogamous pair take turns excavating a nesting cavity by digging a horizontal tunnel into the side of a vertical bank. The tunnel is usually 3 to 6 feet, but can be up to 15 feet in length. At the end of the tunnel, the cavity is tilted up and lined with a grass or leaf saucer. Scientists believe the raised cavity creates an air pocket in case of flooding. The female lays 5 to 8 white eggs. Both the male and female incubate the eggs. The female has the night shift and the male helps in the morning. The female is equipped with a brood patch to keep the eggs warmer at night. Kingfishers have been known to share their tunnels with swallows. The swallows dig out separate rooms off the main tunnel.
Kingfishers are usually heard, then seen. Both sexes have a loud, penetrating rattle. This rattle can be heard year round in flight and perched. A pair will greet each other with a scream call during mating season. The birds are solitary after nesting. Their vocalizations become territorial.
Skagit County provides year-round habitat for Kingfishers. They can be found perched on tree limbs overhanging rivers, bays, estuaries and lakes. Small feeder fish are the mainstay of their diets. The birds will only migrate if fish become scarce or water freezes. Kingfishers in other regions of North America will migrate south into Central and South America.
References available upon request.