Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon
Belted Kingfisher specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon, formerly Ceryle alcyon) is a medium- sized bird (33 cm bill tip to tail tip) that eats primarily fish. It is one of the few species of fish-eating birds found throughout inland areas as well as coastal areas. The belted kingfisher's range includes most of the North American continent; it breeds from northern Alaska and central Labrador southward to the southern border of the United States (Bent, 1940). Two subspecies sometimes are recognized: the eastern belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon alcyon), which occupies the range east of the Rocky Mountains and north to Quebec, and the western belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon caurina), which occupies the remaining range to the west (Bent, 1940). The sexes are similar in size and appearance, although the female tends to be slightly larger (Salyer and Lagler, 1946). Bent (1940) reported that western populations are somewhat larger than eastern ones. Nestlings reach adult body weight by about 16 days after hatching, but then may lose some weight before fledging (Hamas, 1981). Belted kingfishers are typically found along rivers and streams and along lake and pond edges (Hamas, 1974). They are also common on seacoasts and estuaries (Bent, 1940). They generally feed on fish that swim near the surface or in shallow water (Salyer and Lagler, 1946). They capture fish by diving either from a perch overhanging the water or after hovering above the water (Bent, 1940). This kingfisher breeds over most of the area of North America and winters in most regions of the continental United States (National Geographic Society, 1987). Although most northern kingfishers migrate to southern regions during the coldest months, some may stay in areas that remain ice-free where fishing is possible (Bent, 1940).

DC Information

Common permanent resident in this region, nesting in holes in banks along streams, lakes and estuaries, from late March to mid-July. The male has a single gray breast-band. The female has a reddish breast-band as well.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Megaceryle alcyon

Sound from xeno-canto. XC11847 Megaceryle alcyon (Belted Kingfisher)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC51775 Megaceryle alcyon (Belted Kingfisher)