About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do you know what it is?

I often see a grayish, medium-sized bird flying in front of me on the river. It makes quite a racket as it flies away. Do you know what it is?

The chatterbox you’ve been seeing is known as the belted kingfisher. The male alerts you that you’ve drifted into his territory by using his characteristic rattling call. He's probably encouraging you out of his fishing grounds with gentle scolding before he heads back upstream.

Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
Order: CORACIIFORMES Family: Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Description: The Belted Kingfisher is a medium-sized bird (11-14") with a large head and shaggy crest. It has a large, thick bill, bluish head and back with a white throat and collar. The male is white underneath with blue breast band. And contrary to most species the female is the more striking of the two. She wears a fashionable chestnut-brown belt.

Behavior: Belted kingfishers usually sit on perches overhanging water or fly above water until they spot a fish below. The kingfisher then dives in and grabs the fish. The pointy bill helps it catch fish, insects, amphibians, small crustaceans, small mammals and reptiles. Once a kingfisher finds a suitable snack it perches on a branch and stuns it prey by whacking its head against the branch, tossing it into the air, and swallowing it head first. After a meal, it regurgitates the indigestible bones.

During mating season, the male woos the smartly dressed female with mewing songs. The seasonally monogamous couple then digs a 3' to 15' long tunnel into a steep walled bank of clay or sand with a round domed nesting cavity at the end of the tunnel. Occasionally, they share the tunnel with swallows, who construct their own little side bungalows. The female lays 6-8 eggs on a nice nest of sand or regurgitated fish bones. The parents share incubating duties for two weeks before the naked chicks hatch. After four weeks, the young fledge and the kingfisher teaches the young to fish by dropping dead prey into the water.

General:
The kingfisher's scientific name comes from Greek legend. Alcyone, was so distraught when her husband drowned in a shipwreck, that she threw herself into the sea. The pitying gods transformed the lovers into kingfishers, who roamed the water side by side. There was an ancient belief that the birds nested on the sea, which they calmed in order to lay their eggs on a floating nest. This peace or calmness became known as the "halcyon days", when storms never occur.

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