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Wildlife Finds: Belted Kingfishers

A Belted Kingfisher

Photo: A female kingfisher in Big Cypress National Preserve (Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

This impressive, stocky bird can be seen at nature preserves and forests across the country. The distinctive crest is present on both males and females, though males lack the distinctive brown "belly band." The common name for this species is an apt descriptor, as they possess incredible abilities to spot and catch underwater prey from above, even in turbulent waters.

As aquatic hunters, they congregate around clear streams and small lakes, preferring moving water that can support their favorite fish. They are also known to consume shellfish and mollusks, berries, and insects as well, making this species adaptable to a number of environments.

Populations of this species are highly variable in their habits when it comes to migration. Through the central swath of the U.S., there are year-round populations in areas where water doesn't freeze over in winter. Other individuals migrate to the northern reaches of Canada to breed, and travel as far south as Venezuela once waters are frozen. Individual birds are surprisingly solitary, usually preferring to go it alone outside of breeding season.

Males can be territorial, and are known to claim portions of a river or coastline as their own, chasing other kingfishers away with their mate. As pairs, they work together to burrow into the earth near the shoreline to create their nests.

Much of New Mexico is too dry to support this species for long periods of time, and are usually spotted in migration, usually close to wetlands around the Rio Grande or high elevations with more moisture like the Sacramento Mountains. One exception is the very northern reaches of New Mexico, where the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests harbor enough moisture to support small year-round populations.

The Rio Chama is especially suited to this species, as the temperate climate and carved cliffs provide ideal hunting perches above the water.

You can find more information about this common species from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who publish great information on birds across the country and curate the Merlin BirdID app, a useful tool for identifying and tracking North American birds on your smartphone.


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