Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
The harsh, rattling, kek-kek-kek-kek-kek of a bright blue kingfisher flying along the banks of a stream is a common sign of summer in Canada.
The belted kingfisher is a solitary fishing bird 33 cm in length, about the size of a large blue jay. It has slate-blue upperparts, with a large shaggy crest and a short, stiff tail. Its underparts are white, with a slate blue band across the breast. It also has a white spot in front of each eye and an incomplete white collar around the front and sides of its neck. The female has an additional, rusty brown band running across her lower breast and down her flanks. Kingfishers have long, sturdy bills that they use for spearing fish. Their feet are unique in having two toes partially fused together.
The belted kingfisher breeds throughout Canada from the southern border north to near the treeline. It occurs in both fresh and salt water, in areas that are rich in small fish. Kingfishers winter in far southern Ontario and through the United States as far south as Central America.
The belted kingfisher nests in solitary pairs, which are monogamous for the duration of each breeding season. Males defend their breeding territories by flying noisily around the boundaries. When a female moves into the territory, the male feeds her. The nest site is a tunnel constructed by both parents along a river, or at the edge of a lake or pond. Preferred nest sites include well-drained vertical banks, gravel-pits, embankments, soil in fallen tree-roots, or sometimes tree cavities. Tunnels are 1 or 2 m long, and the nest chamber itself is lined with grass or leaves. Six or seven white eggs are incubated by both parents for about 24 days. The parents feed the young in the nest on regurgitated fish for at least 23 days. They remain in their parents' care until they can fend for themselves.
Belted kingfishers eat a wide range of foods, but rely primarily on small (10-15 cm length) fish, in particular trout, sticklebacks, dace, and minnows. They also catch crayfish, amphibians, young birds, small mammals, and insects. In winter, they eat berries. Both adults and young bring up pellets containing the indigestible hard parts of their prey. Belted kingfishers roost high in trees at night, and their cast pellets are found below these roosting sites.
When fishing, the belted kingfisher perches on an exposed branch high above the water, scanning for fish. When it spots prey, it hovers momentarily and dives, wings open, into the water. Fish are beaten against a branch to stun them, and then swallowed whole.