Belted kingfishers are one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. In Ohio, the kingfisher can be found year round with the availability of open, fish-occupied waters. Belted kingfishers can often be seen perching or hovering over water in search of its primary prey, small fish. Once a kingfisher locates a small fish it dives head first vertically or at an angle for the water, aiming right for the prey. After catching a fish in its long thick bill, it flies back to its perch and bangs the fish against the branch or trunk of the tree. When the fish is stunned or dead, it gives it a little toss in the air, catches it and swallows it whole. Belted kingfishers also prey on crayfish, frogs, tadpoles and other aquatic dwellers. Later kingfishers, like owls, will regurgitate pellets containing the bones and indigestible materials.
Belted kingfishers are solitary except during the breeding season early April to mid-July. During this time males will defend their territory against other kingfishers. When an unidentified kingfisher intrudes an occupied territory, the male becomes very aggressive, resulting in a rattling vocal air flight that continues until the trespasser vacates. An average territory could be a little over half-mile long.
It can take belted kingfishers three days to three weeks to excavate their nesting tunnel in a river bank or lakeside bluff. When they are building their tunnel, males and females chip away at the dirt with their long thick bills. They then use their feet in which two of their toes are fused together. These toes act as a plow for pushing the loose dirt out of the tunnel. The tunnel entrance slopes upwards, is 3.5 to 4 inches wide and can be up to six feet long. At the end of the tunnel is a small almost perfectly spherical chamber for egg laying.
The female kingfisher lays usually lays six to eight glossy white eggs. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs for 23-24 days. The young are altricial and naked. The chicks bristly feather quills grow in about a week and their eyes open in about two weeks. Young are tended to by both parents. The adults feed them regurgitated food. Young leave the nest 30-35 days after hatching.
Surprisingly, human activity, such as digging gravel pits and building roads, have helped the belted kingfisher by creating banks where kingfishers can build nests and expand their breeding range. Kingfishers appear to be less susceptible to environmental pollutants than other fish-eating birds, however excellent water quality must be protected for successful fish populations that the belted kingfisher relies on for survival and reproduction.
What can you do? Protect our watersheds. A watershed is a region draining into a river, river system or other body of water. Anything harmful such as home toxins, automotive fluids and fertilizers, which run off land, can eventually get into part or all of a watershed. These pollutants can have life-threatening effects on organisms in or around the river.