110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: Belted kingfishers dig tunnel nests up to 8 feet long
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jun 30, 2014 - 2:19:06pm
All alone, but looking content, a handsome belted kingfisher perched on a wooden railing leading to the Halifax River in Ormond Beach. He was 13 inches long, had a 20-inch wingspan, and weighed about 5 ounces. His large blue-feathered head had a shaggy crest and a long, heavy, black bill.
His back and wings and the band under his neck were blue, while his underside and the wide band around his neck were white. His tail was short, his legs very short, and his feet were small. The female is slightly larger, and has a chestnut-colored stripe on her belly.
Belted kingfishers are solitary birds that live in most of North America except the far northern part, and they also live as far south as northern South America.
Only at breeding time in May are they social. The male and female use their bills to dig a horizontal tunnel in a bank of sand, clay or gravel. It takes them two to 10 days, and they make the tunnel 4 inches in diameter and up to 8 feet long!
The female lays five to eight eggs on the bare floor of the passageway. Both parents incubate the eggs, and after the chicks hatch, the parents feed regurgitated food to them for three weeks.
Kingfishers move from perch to perch or hover in midair over water to find their food; then they plunge-dive headfirst into lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes or streams seeking fish. In addition to fish, they eat amphibians, small mammals, reptiles and insects.
Kingfishers must have excellent eyesight to see small fish up to 50 feet away underwater. After a kingfisher catches a fish, he flies back to his perch, bangs the fish to death on a branch, throws it in the air, catches it, and swallows it! Like owls, the kingfisher will later regurgitate a pellet with bones and other indigestible material.
The belted kingfisher is truly an amazing bird: It dives like a brown pelican to catch its prey, digs a tunnel for a nest like a burrowing owl, and has excellent vision like a bald eagle.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at email@example.com.
Cutline: This belted kingfisher, perched on a fence at the Halifax River in Ormond Beach, was quite unaware of his admiring audience of Audubon friends.
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