Get to Know Kiawah River’s Birds: Belted Kingfisher

You’ve probably heard the Belted Kingfisher before you’ve seen it.  

Known for its loud, rattling call, the Belted Kingfisher will hover in the air over the water—wings beating rapidly before it plunges headfirst into the creek for its prey. While you might not get a good, up-close look at them in the wild, you’ll be able to identify them from that wild call and spot them from afar in the conspicuous places they perch. Read on to find out a little more about these striking birds that call Kiawah River home.  

Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) are found throughout North America, usually near bodies of water like our creeks and ponds in the sea islands. Often seen alone, not in flocks, they nest in long tunnels dug into the mud and soft ground on the banks of creeks. You can spot them perched on telephone wires or tree branches stretching across water. Look for their large, distinctive crested head and stocky body as it eyes its dinner in the waterway below.  

Once spying its prey, the Kingfisher will dive into the water to catch the small fish that makes up the majority of their diet. They will also eat crayfish, frogs and aquatic insects. As young birds, Kingfishers have an acidic stomach that allows them to digest all of the animal it eats—including bones and scales. After leaving the nest, their stomach chemistry changes and those indigestible parts of its prey are coughed up as pellets.   

Kingfishers are one of the few birds where the females are more colorful than the males. Both have a blue band across their white breasts, but the female also sports an additional rust colored band. About the size of a Robin, they’re top-heavy—with large, slate-colored heads and heavy black bills which allow them to catch and eat their aquatic prey efficiently. 

Keep an eye (and ear) out for the Kingfisher and you can add the bird to your Life List, a list that birders keep of all the birds they’ve observed throughout their lives. There are plenty of birds who call Kiawah River their home, so your list will grow the more you get outside!