Kingfishers, of the family Alcedinidaes, are small to medium-sized birds. They can be seen around slow-moving or still water and are brightly colored. There are 87 species of kingfisher globally.
In North America, there are four different kingfisher species. These are the Belted Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, and Ringed Kingfisher.
While the belted kingfisher is the most common around North America, the ringed kingfisher is the largest, and the green kingfisher is the smallest. The Amazon Kingfisher rarely visits the United States but has been seen in Texas.
Belted Kingfishers are the most common of all kingfisher species worldwide. They make their nests by digging into shoreline banks next to water bodies. The sit-and-wait predator looks for its prey from a perch on a branch, pier, or pylon. Making unmethodical beats with their wings, they loudly vocalize if they sense any potential threat.
The bird lives in inland and coastal habitats while breeding only in North America. The male chooses a breeding spot and courts the female by bringing fish for her and singing. After mating, the pair dig a 3-8 foot burrow in a sandy bank, where the female later lays 6-8 eggs.
The species mainly thrives on 9-14 cm long fish during spring and summer and eats berries during winter. Other prey include mollusks, amphibians, crustaceans, nestling birds, lizards, insects, and small rodents.
The Green Kingfisher is the smallest of the kingfishers in North America. They are dark green in color and feature disproportionately long bills. They can be found along ponds and rivers, and seen watching over creeks, perched on a branch above the water.
The male Green Kingfisher can be distinguished from the female by its orange breast band, whereas the female exhibits distinctive green markings on her breast. This bird’s white outer tail feathers sport green spots visible in flight. They are less conspicuous than other kingfishers and take low-height flights.
The female lays 3-6 eggs, incubated by the female during the night while both the parents do the task in the daytime. The young fledge 27 days after hatching.
Green Kingfishers feed on small aquatic fish, prawns, and crustaceans. In seasons where fish are scarce, they eat aquatic insects and dragonfly nymphs.
The Ringed Kingfisher is the largest kingfisher in North America and features an enormous bill and raucous calls. They are marked by a white-collar, rufous belly, and shaggy crest. They have brownish-orange breasts but males sport the color up to their neck. They nest in burrows made on banks and water bodies. They fly high and search shallow water for food from a perch.
During the mating ritual, the male Ringed Kingfisher presents a fish as a gift to the female as a display of courtship. The pair then engage in copulation while perched in a location where the male vocalizes their calls. This courtship dance involves the birds circling above the waters before descending to the same location.
Males take extensive dives into the water and catch larger fish than the females can manage. Both also survive on a diet of crabs, invertebrates, and crustaceans.
The Amazon Kingfisher is a rare visitor from southern Mexico, Central America, and Southern Mexico’s tropical forests. They have been seen in Texas. This species looks similar to the Green Kingfisher but has a heavier body.
The Amazon Kingfisher is a medium-sized bird found solo or in pairs at the edges of ponds and along rivers. They have black bills that are larger than Belted Kingfishers and with a larger tufted crest.
The bird breeds by streams, and their unlined nests are built in a horizontal tunnel on a riverbank. The female lays 3-4 white eggs.
The Amazon Kingfisher flies at low heights over water. The Amazon Kingfisher can often be seen perched on a branch close to water. They plunge their head into the water to catch food before eating their prey. They feed mainly on insects, amphibians, crustaceans, and small reptiles.
References And Further Reading
The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley – This comprehensive field guide features detailed illustrations and information on North American birds. It’s known for its accuracy and detailed artwork.
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer – Another comprehensive guide with beautiful illustrations and range maps. It’s a valuable resource for both beginners and experienced birders.
The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman – This guide is praised for its simplicity and effectiveness in the field. It provides detailed descriptions and illustrations, making it accessible for birders of all levels.
Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson – A classic in the world of birding, Peterson’s guides are known for their clear illustrations and useful identification tips. This guide is a staple for many birdwatchers.
Birds of North America: A Guide To Field Identification by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim – This user-friendly guide offers a straightforward format and clear illustrations, making it easy to identify birds in the field.
The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley – This unique guide uses photographs instead of illustrations to show birds in various poses and situations, aiding in identification. It offers a fresh perspective on bird identification.
Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds by Kevin Karlson – This book focuses on identifying birds based on their overall impression and behavior rather than detailed field marks. It offers a unique approach to birdwatching.
Birds of North America by Paul Sterry and Brian E. Small – This compact guide features concise descriptions and quality photographs for quick reference. It’s a handy companion for birders on the go.
Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region by Donald Stokes and Lillian Stokes – Known for its helpful visual keys and illustrations, this guide is suitable for birders looking to quickly identify birds in the eastern region of North America.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.