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Belted Kingfisher: Identification and Overview

May 10, 2023

The Belted Kingfisher is an iconic bird species known for its distinctive appearance and thrilling fishing behavior. Found throughout North America, this captivating bird is a sight to behold as it dives into the water in pursuit of its prey. In this blog, we will delve into the size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, interesting facts, ecosystem services, and the importance of the Belted Kingfisher to its ecosystem. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of this striking bird.

Size and Shape

The Belted Kingfisher is a medium-sized bird, measuring approximately 11 to 14 inches in length, with a wingspan of 19 to 23 inches. It has a stocky build, with a large head, a distinctive shaggy crest, and a stout, straight bill that is well-adapted for catching fish.

One of the most notable features of the Belted Kingfisher is its short legs, which are adapted for perching on branches or other structures near the water's edge. Its body is robust, with broad wings that enable strong and agile flight, making it a skilled hunter of aquatic prey.

The Belted Kingfisher's tail is relatively short, square-tipped, and features prominent dark bands. This bird has a slightly hunched posture, giving it a distinctive silhouette that is easily recognizable even from a distance.

Color Pattern

The Belted Kingfisher has a striking color pattern that sets it apart from other bird species. Its plumage is predominantly blue-gray, with a white collar around the neck, and white underparts. The male has a single, broad blue-gray band across the chest, while the female sports an additional rusty-red band on the belly.

The head of the Belted Kingfisher is adorned with a blue-gray shaggy crest, which can be raised or lowered depending on the bird's mood or behavior. Its eyes are large and dark, with a white patch above and below the eye, giving it a striking facial appearance.

The wings and tail of the Belted Kingfisher are marked with dark bands, providing excellent camouflage when perched among branches or other structures near the water. These bands also create a distinctive pattern when the bird is in flight, making it easily identifiable even from a distance.


Belted Kingfishers are solitary birds, known for their territorial behavior. They fiercely defend their feeding and nesting areas from other kingfishers and potential predators. These birds are primarily diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day, spending their time hunting for fish and other aquatic prey.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Belted Kingfisher behavior is their fishing technique. They typically perch on a branch or other structure overlooking the water, scanning for signs of fish below. Once a target is spotted, the kingfisher will dive headfirst into the water, often completely submerging itself, and seize the fish with its powerful bill. The bird then returns to its perch, where it will stun the fish by hitting it against the branch before swallowing it headfirst.

During the breeding season, Belted Kingfishers engage in a courtship display that includes aerial chases and vocalizations. They nest in burrows excavated in earthen banks along rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water. Both the male and female participate in digging the burrow, which can be up to 8 feet long, and they raise their young together.


Belted King fishers are found throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada to parts of Central America. They inhabit a wide variety of aquatic habitats, including rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, estuaries, and even coastal waters. The primary requirement for their habitat is a steady supply of fish or other aquatic prey, along with suitable perches and nesting sites.

These adaptable birds can be found in both urban and rural settings, as long as there is a sufficient food source and suitable nesting locations. Belted Kingfishers often return to the same nesting and feeding sites year after year, making them a familiar sight in some communities.

In the winter months, Belted Kingfishers from the northern parts of their range may migrate south to avoid freezing temperatures and to access more abundant food sources. However, they are considered short-distance migrants, with many individuals remaining in their breeding range throughout the year if the conditions permit.


  1. Belted Kingfishers are known for their incredible diving abilities, often plunging from heights of up to 40 feet to catch fish.
  2. The Belted Kingfisher is one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male.
  3. These birds can consume prey up to 2.8 inches in length, which is approximately the length of their bill.
  4. Belted Kingfishers are capable of catching fish even in murky water, thanks to their excellent vision and the sensitivity of their bills to vibrations in the water.
  5. The Belted Kingfisher's burrow nests are often reused by other bird species, such as swallows and bank swallows, after the kingfisher has finished nesting.

Ecosystem Services

Belted Kingfishers play an essential role in their ecosystems as predators of fish and other aquatic organisms. They help maintain the balance of aquatic populations, preventing overpopulation of certain fish species and contributing to the overall health of aquatic ecosystems.

Their nesting habits also provide benefits to other species. As previously mentioned, their burrow nests are often reused by other birds, such as swallows, after the kingfishers have finished nesting. This provides valuable nesting sites for these species in areas where natural cavities may be limited.

Belted Kingfishers also contribute to nutrient cycling in their ecosystems, as the fish they consume are digested and the nutrients are returned to the environment through their waste. This can help support plant growth and maintain overall ecosystem productivity.


The Belted Kingfisher is a fascinating bird species with unique features and behaviors that make it a captivating subject for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. As skilled hunters and vital components of their ecosystems, these birds play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of aquatic populations and providing essential ecosystem services. By learning more about the Belted Kingfisher and its importance to the environment, we can better appreciate and protect this remarkable bird and its habitat for generations to come.