According to the 2013 Natural Events Calendar, the belted kingfishers will be returning on or around the third of April. During mild winters, some of the birds may overwinter in parts of southern Missouri. I expect that most spent this past winter around the Gulf Coast or in areas of Mexico. We should have them back in Missouri from early April until fall arrives.
The belted kingfisher’s appearance is distinctive, so identification is seldom a problem. Their large, crested head and blue-gray color with white bands is distinctive. Unlike most birds, the female is more colorful than the male, sporting a chestnut belly stripe in addition to the white stripe. Their call, described as a loud, nonmusical rattle, is often heard before the bird is sighted. Because they feed on fish, crayfish and mollusks from clear-water streams and ponds, the kingfisher is usually observed on perches near water or flying from one perch to another.
When I was spring turkey hunting in the Missouri River bottom one April several years ago, I was lucky enough to be sitting in a spot where I could observe a belted kingfisher nest site. Until then, I hadn’t realized that they excavate holes in the sandy loam soils of river and stream banks. Their nest burrows can extend from three to six feet back into the bank. The entrance tunnel slopes uphill, possibly to keep rain or floodwaters away from the nest. The fact that the nest is in a burrow in the soil probably explains why the female is brightly colored because, unlike most nesting birds, she won’t been seen by predators while on the nest.
Nestling kingfishers are able to digest fish scales, crawfish parts and snail shells. The adult birds, however, cough up pellets of scales and other indigestible parts of their food, giving clues as to their diet.
There are around ninety species of kingfishers worldwide but we just have the belted kingfisher in Missouri. It is not closely related to any of our other native birds.