By Diana Dunn
A dense winter chill lingers over brimming creeks and it seems as though nothing can break the tranquility of the granite sky. That is until you hear a proud, rattling call from a dusky blue aerialist darting between trees. Its stocky stature, prominent head adorned with a regal crest, and its impeccably white breast embellished with a blue sash are all accents that make him a king. The aptly named Belted Kingfisher can be found lording over our local streams, creeks, and ponds.
Belted kingfishers can be a rather imposing force along riparian corridors primarily. They are extremely territorial and are vigilant about protecting their perches, which overhang water sources abundant with small fish. Like with all nobility, the kingfisher must do everything with an air of audacity, which is why it hunts as flamboyantly as it looks. A kingfisher will be poised mid-air, before diving head first to seize a fish with its long, straight, black bill. Once it has snatched up its meal, the belted kingfisher returns to its favorite resting spot and conquers its prey by striking it against a branch until it goes limp.
The belted kingfisher takes its sweet time devouring its prey. The kingfisher wiggles its meal around in its bill until it is arranged correctly and relishes the fish by devouring it headfirst. However, if fish are not available the belted kingfisher will also happily feast on frogs, tadpoles and crayfish.
But every king needs a queen, and in spring male and female belted kingfisher pairs begin to establish their kingdom. These territories usually consist of habitats with vertical banks in which the belted kingfisher couple can create a subterranean burrow. These burrows are dug by both the male and female kingfishers using their syndactyly feet, where the outer toes of the bird are fused together. The pair will continue to shovel for three or four days until their tunnel is six to eight feet long.
At the end of the burrow lies a nesting chamber where the female lays six or seven eggs that the pair will trade off incubating for around 24 days. Once the fledglings have hatched, the male and female belted kingfishers will feed their young for four weeks. After weeks of doting on their young the kingfisher pair begins to teach their offspring how to fish for themselves. One of the parents will capture a small fish and drop it into a shallow pool of water to train the fledglings to dive into the water to catch their food.
These watershed monarchs are a sight to see, that is if they deem you fit to catch a glimpse of them.