Looking top-heavy with an oversized head and tiny feet, the Belted Kingfisher is all about adaptation. It is very good at what it does but can’t do much else. I see these animated birds in marinas and quiet anchorages, flying back and forth defending prime fishing areas and yelling a piercing rattle at competitors. This is not a calm and stately bird but more a hyper drive of tension. Kingfishers often sit on a waterside branch (a spreader works). When it spots fish movement below, it will compensate for the visual tricks of water refraction by diving lower than where the fish is. Once underwater, it reorients itself on the fish and, bang oh, up it comes with a meal. They don’t swallow the catch underwater but instead return to the perch so they can jockey the fish to a swallow position.
Kingfishers nest in an open dirt bank near water, those perfectly bare vertical cliffs the Salish Sea is full of. They dig a deep burrow that slopes upward from the entrance, possibly to help drainage, and some tunnels can be eight feet long. A larger room at the end holds ‘the kids,’ five to eight pure white glossy eggs that hatch and fledge within a month. As nestlings, super acidic stomachs help digest fish bones and scales, but upon leaving the tunnel for good, their chemistry changes and instead of digesting this stuff, the regurgitate it as pellets like owls do, always under their roost perches. Kingfishers are here all year and only need open water and a perch to survive cold winters. Keep your eyes open around your marina. I’ll bet there are a couple of these fisher-kings doing business
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.