Bird Database

Belted Kingfisher

(Megaceryle alcyon)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Habitat loss, Contaminants

Conservation Actions

More data are needed on nature and magnitudes of threats

Belted Kingfisher

(Megaceryle alcyon)

The loud and distinctive rattle of the Belted Kingfisher is a common sound along New Hampshire’s rivers and lakeshores. As its name implies, this species feeds almost entirely on fish, which it captures in shallow water. Kingfishers hunt in two ways, either from a perch or by hovering over the water. When a fish is detected the bird dives into the water and grabs the prey with its bill, and then brings it back to a perch to swallow whole. Because they are visual predators, kingfishers are not often seen near muddy rivers or areas with waves that make it difficult to see below the surface.

Belted Kingfishers are cavity nesters, laying their eggs in burrows they dig into vertical banks of sand or dirt. These tunnels are 4-6 feet deep and 3-5 inches in diameter and can often be identified by two slight groves on the bottom of the entrance where the birds’ feet drag as they enter. Historically nesting habitat was limited to eroding banks of rivers and lakes, and less commonly coastal bluffs, but the species adapted well to human modification of the landscape and now also nests in gravel pits and road cuts, sometimes far from water.

Kingfisher populations have been in slow decline for decades, but there are no clear explanations for this trend. It’s been speculated that contaminants such as DDT and PCBs could be a factor, as has been demonstrated for other fish-eating birds, but levels of these toxins in kingfishers have been low where tested. Historically the species was persecuted at fish hatcheries, but this is far less common now. Given their nesting habitat, a third possibility is that bank stabilization along rivers is reducing the extent of eroding banks in which to nest, as has been documented for Bank Swallows in some areas. There is clearly much to learn about some aspects of Belted Kingfisher ecology as it relates to conservation.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Belted Kingfisher
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count