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Belted Kingfisher
Ceryle alcyon
Anatomy of a Bird

A common waterside resident throughout North America, the Belted Kingfisher is often seen hovering before it plunges headfirst into water to catch a fish. It frequently announces its presence by its loud rattling cry.

Range Map My Photos Of This Bird
© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cool Facts Taxonomic Hierarchy Illustration
  • The breeding distribution of the Belted Kingfisher is limited in some areas by the availability of suitable nesting sites. Human activity, such as road building and digging gravel pits, has created banks where kingfishers can nest and allowed the expansion of the breeding range.
  • The Belted Kingfisher is one of the few bird species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. Among the 93 species of kingfishers, the sexes often look alike. In some species the male is more colorful, and in others the female is.
  • During breeding season the Belted Kingfisher pair defends a territory against other kingfishers. A territory along a stream includes just the streambed and the vegetation along it, and averages 1 km (0.6 mi) long. The nest burrow is usually in a dirt bank near water. The tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, perhaps to keep water from entering the nest. Tunnel length ranges from 30 to 250 cm (1 to 8 ft.
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Alcedinidae
Genus: Ceryle
Species: Ceryle alcyon
Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley




Adult Description

  • Medium-sized bird.
  • Large head and shaggy crest.
  • Large, thick bill.
  • Bluish head and back.
  • White throat and collar.
  • White underneath with blue breast band.

Male Description

Belly white, without rufous band. May have rufous flanks and some reddish in blue chest band.

Female Description

Rufous flanks and band across chest below the blue band. Rufous tips to feathers in blue chest band.

Immature Description

Immature like adult, but immature male has incomplete rufous chest band.
Call a loud, harsh rattle.

  • Breeding Location: Lakes, Seashore, rocky or sandy, Rivers
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous
  • Breeding Population: Slight decline
  • Egg Color: White
  • Number of Eggs: 5 - 8
  • Incubation Days: 23 - 24
  • Egg Incubator: Both sexes
  • Nest Material: Usually no lining, but may have debris with undigested fish bones and scales.
  • Migration: Some migrate
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless and naked.
Body Head Flight
  • Length Range: 28-37 cm (11-14.5 in)
  • Weight: 147 g (5.2 oz)
  • Size: Medium (9 - 16 in)
  • Color Primary: Blue, White, Gray
  • Underparts: White
  • Upperparts: Blue-gray
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Barred or banded
  • Bill Shape: Dagger
  • Eye Color: Dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Plain, Crested or plumed, Unique pattern
  • Crown Color: Blue-gray
  • Forehead Color: Blue-gray
  • Nape Color: Blue-gray
  • Throat Color: White
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Slow direct flight with somewhat erratic pattern., Hovers above water.
  • Wingspan Range: 56-66 cm (22-26 in)
  • Wing Shape: Pointed-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Barred
  • Upper Tail: Blue-gray
  • Under Tail: White
  • Leg Color: Gray


Food Habitat
Watches in clear water from perch or while hovering, plunges into water headfirst to catch prey in bill. Pounds prey on perch to kill it. Fish. Also aquatic invertebrates, insects, and small vertebrates.
  • Breeds along streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries with banks for nest holes.
  • Winters along coast, streams, and lakes.
Other Names Similar Species Conservation Status
  • Martin-pêcheur d'Amérique (French)
  • Martín Pescador Norteño, Martín Pescador Migratorio, Martín Pescador Pasajero (Spanish)
  • Blue Jay is slimmer, has a more pointed crest, and a thin dark necklace instead of a broad chest band.
  • Ringed Kingfisher is similar, but is larger and has extensive rufous belly.
  • Green Kingfisher is smaller, green, not blue, and lacks the large white spot in the wing.
Populations may be decreasing in many areas.
Video Sources Used To Construct This Page:


  • Hamas, M. J. 1994. Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). In The Birds of North America, No. 84 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.
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