BELTED KINGFISHER  Megaceryle alcyonMegaceryle alcyon

The Belted Kingfisher is a widespread, conspicuous, well-known bird with a distinctive rattling call. It inhabits clear water areas of streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, estuaries, and sea coasts.Its presence is an indicator of good water quality.

DISTRIBUTION: TBBA observers found Belted Kingfishers breeding primarily in the Pineywoods, Post Oak  Savannah and Blackland Prairies, Rolling Plains and Edwards Plateau regions of Texas, where they are uncommon and local summer residents (TBBA, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).TBBA workers found few confirmed breeding records  in coastal Texas. In the remainder of the state the species is very rare to rare and local in summer (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Distribution and local abundance is determined by the availability of suitable nesting and fishing sites (Hamas 1994). In winter, along the Rio Grande, the Belted Kingfisher appears more tolerant of fluctuating water levels for foraging than do the Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) and the Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) see Passmore and Thompson (1981).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE: Belted Kingfishers breeds from late March. or early April to mid-July; based om eggs collected from Apr. 15-June 19 (Oberholser 1974). Incubation and nestling periods are long, so renesting attempts are unlikely after mid-June (Hamas 1994). Wintering birds are present from late August to early May when they are uncommon to locally common throughout the state.

BREEDING HABITAT: The Belted Kingfisher inhabits clear water areas of streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, estuaries, and sea coasts. Preferred habitats include waters that are not obscured or overgrown by vegetation, are running and not turbid (Hamas 1994). Several fish prey species congregate and feed at the ends of riffle areas where invertebrates are the most dense (Prose 1985). Thus stream riffles are an indicator of prey abundance and habitat quality; small territories have proportionally more riffles than large territories (Davis 1982). Preferred nest sites in Texas are earthen friable banks void of vegetation. Nests are usually near water; but ditches, road and railroad cuts, landfills, sand or gravel pits and holes in dead trees and stumps are acceptable, even if some distance from water (Oberholser 1974, Hamas 1994). Fishing sites are usually within1.6 km (1.0 mi) of nest sites, although 3.2 km (2 mi) is not uncommon (Prose 1985). Most fishing is done within 15 m) (49 ft) of the water’s edge sincefurther distances from a perch require hovering which is energetically expensive (Prose 1985).

Both sexes participate in excavating a burrow and prefer a section of bank lined with herbaceous vegetation rather than trees where roots impede excavation. The burrow entrance is usually at least 1.5 m (5 ft) from the bottom of the bank which provides protection from flooding and predators (Cornwell 1963) and 35-64 cm (14-25 in) below the top of the bank to prevent water seepage, collapse, and access to predators (Hamas 1975, Davis 1980). Inhabited burrows are easily identified since they exhibit two furrows made by the small shuffling feet of the birds as they enter and leave the burrow. Burrows may be reused annually. If the first eggs are destroyed before mid-June, birds may renest; but, they excavate a new burrow (Hamas 1994).

Breeding census data and habitat variables for the Belted Kingfisher were obtained along a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) stretch of the South llano River at the Texas Tech University Center at Junction, Texas, Kimble County in the central Edwards Plateau ecoregion (RCT, April 7-8, 1988). Six, 2-man canoe teams found averages of 3 birds, 6 burrows, 16 riffles, 9 banks suitable for nesting, and 11 banks unsuitable for nesting. However, an average of 4 Green Kingfishers were also counted; so, some of the burrows could have been theirs; but their burrows are smaller in diameter, 5-5.6 cm (2-2.25 in) vs. 7.5-10 cm (3-4 in) for Belted Kingfishers, and, the Green Kingfisher burrows are often concealed by vines or exposed roots draping the top of the bank (Oberholser 1974). The distance between burrows was about one km 0.6 mi) which is very close to the minimum habitat area estimated from territory size data (1.0 km) given by Prose (1985).

STATUS: Several variables are critical for maintaining breeding populations of Belted Kingfishers: water quality, cover, availability of breeding sites, and avoidance of human disturbance (Prose 1985). North American Breeding Bird Survey data for Texas (Sauer et al. 2005) give annual trends of -1.8% (1966-1979), -4.4% (1980-2005), and -4.2% (1966-2005); thus, showing a slightly decreasing trend.

Text by Raymond C. Telfair II (2007)

Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

Cornwell, G. W. 1963. Observations on the breeding biology and behavior of a nesting population of Belted Kingfishers. Condor 65: 426-431.Davis, W. J. 1980. The Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon: Its ecology and territoriality. M.Sc. thesis, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH.

Davis, W. J. 1982. Territory size in Megaceryle alcyon along a stream habitat. Auk 99: 353-362.

Hamas, M. J. 1975. Ecological and physiological adaptations for breeding in the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Hamas, M. J. 1994. Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). In The Birds of North America, , No. 84  (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M. University Press, College Station.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of. Texas Press, Austin.

Passmore, M. F. and B. C. Thompson. 1981. Responses of three species of kingfishers to fluctuating water levels. Bull. Texas Ornithol. Soc. 14: 13-17.

Prose, B. L. 1985. Habitat suitability index models: Belted Kingfisher. U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. No 82 (10.87): 10-22.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results/analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2.2006. USGS Patuxent Wildl. Res. Cnt., Laurel, Maryland.

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