• Juvenile peaking out of nest burrow.
  • Male
  • Female. Note: rufous band on belly.
  • Female in flight.
  • Nestlings in burrow

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Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon
Members of this group of small to medium-sized stocky birds typically have large heads and small feet. Their most distinctive trait is the partial fusion of two toes in an arrangement known as syndactyly. The order includes familes as diverse as the rollers of the Old World and the motmots of the tropical Americas, but only one family reaches Washington:
Kingfishers typically have crested heads and long, sturdy bills. Although only a handful of species are found in the Western Hemisphere and only one makes it as far north as Washington, there are far more species in other parts of the world. Many have brightly colored plumage. Kingfishers plunge into the water from above to catch fish and other aquatic creatures in their bills. Their partially fused toes may aid them in digging nest burrows.
Fairly common resident.

    General Description

    The Belted Kingfisher is a medium-sized, stocky bird with a large, crested head, and a long, solid bill. The bird has a small white spot by each eye, at the base of the bill. Its back is an overall slate blue color. The white belly is transected by a slate blue band, topped with a white collar. The female has an additional rufous band and rufous coloring on the sides of the belly.


    Belted Kingfishers are found along shorelines and wetlands in fresh and salt water environments. They require sandy vertical banks for nest burrows and clear water so they can see their aquatic prey.


    Belted Kingfishers perch or hover over open water, watching for prey. Once prey is sighted, they dive headfirst into the water and seize it with their bills. Typically prey is taken near the surface, and the birds do not submerge themselves completely. Belted Kingfishers are highly territorial and vigorously defend their territories. Their most common call is a dry rattle, often given in flight.


    Belted Kingfishers almost always take food from the water, feeding predominantly on small fish. They will also prey on crayfish, frogs, tadpoles, and other aquatic dwellers.


    The Belted Kingfisher nests in burrows dug in sandy banks. Two of its toes are fused together and act as a shovel for digging these burrows. Both the male and the female incubate the 6-7 eggs that she lays in the burrow. Both parents regurgitate fish to feed the young.

    Migration Status

    Across their range, some kingfishers migrate as far south as northern South America. In parts of Washington where water remains open through the winter, kingfishers can be found year round; others in the state are migratory. They leave interior and higher elevation breeding grounds by September.

    Conservation Status

    According to breeding bird surveys, the population in Washington has remained stable over the last 35 years. Kingfishers appear to be less susceptible to environmental contaminants than other fish-eating birds, possibly because their diet is restricted to smaller fish. Availability of suitable banks for nesting is a limiting factor in distribution and abundance. Water quality and nesting sites must be protected for successful reproduction.

    When and Where to Find in Washington

    Kingfishers are common year round (as long as there is open water) in wetlands and along rivers and streams at elevations below the sub-alpine fir and mountain hemlock zones throughout Washington, and along the coasts.

    Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

    C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
    Pacific Northwest CoastFFFFFFFFFFFF
    Puget TroughFFFFFFFFFFFF
    North CascadesFFFFFFFFFFFF
    West CascadesFFFFFFFFFFFF
    East CascadesFFFFFFFFFFFF
    Canadian RockiesFFFFFFFFFFFF
    Blue MountainsRRRUUUUUUUUU
    Columbia PlateauFFFFFFFFFFFF

    Washington Range Map

    North American Range Map

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    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern