And the Chirpion Is…

We have a winner for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s March Migration Madness! And the 2016 Chirpion is…(cue drum roll)

The Belted Kingfisher! Hooray! 😀

(Image by David Magers via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

It was a tough competition. The Belted Kingfisher was against the Cedar Waxwing in the “Chirpionship Game”. The Cedar Waxwing was a previous winner for Migration Madness and again fought its way through to the final round, beating out the competition. (I still can’t believe it beat the Pileated Woodpecker!) The kingfisher was considered the “underbird”, but the votes don’t lie: people love the Belted Kingfisher. I love the Belted Kingfisher as well. I seem them pretty frequently at many of my birding hotspots.

They may only be the size of a dove, but these little birds have personality! In honor of the 2016 “Chirpion”, here are 5 reasons why Belted Kingfishers are one of the coolest little birds around.

Belted Kingfishers are one of the few birds where the female is more colorful than the male.

There are around 90 species of kingfishers around the world. In many of these species it is hard to tell whether you are looking at a male or female because they look very similar. However, you can tell if you are looking at a male or female Belted Kingfisher. Males have a single blue band across their white chest; females have a blue band and a chestnut band across their white breast.

Female (left) and Male (right) (Images by Steve Ellwood and Ian Stuart Forsyth, National Geographic your Shot)

Belted Kingfishers are not afraid to defend their territories.

Belted Kingfishers live along most waterside habits. Once a kingfisher established its territory it has many strategies to defend its area. If an intruder enters, the kingfisher will fly up and down the water, making its piercing rattling call. It may also extend its crest and heave its body up and down to scare off an intruder. Another tactic is to scream, spread its wings, and raise the white patches of feathers near its eyes. I definitely wouldn’t want to mess with a Belted Kingfisher!

They are expert fishermen.

The “king” in kingfisher is an apt description, because they are experts at fishing. Belted Kingfishers hunt in clear water where they can see the fish below the water’s surface. They will sit on a perch or hover over the water while hunting. Once they spot their prey, the kingfisher will dive into the water head first with their eyes closed. The kingfisher will pound its prey against its perch before swallowing it head first.

A diving Belted Kingfisher (Image by Tom Sanders via

Both parents help with raising chicks.

Kingfishers don’t make a nest in a tree, they dig a burrow to deposit the eggs. Parents will take turn digging out the burrow in the dirt by the water. The tunnel can be anywhere from 1 to 8 feet in length. The female will mainly incubate the eggs, but the male may take over in the mornings. Once the chicks are hatched, the male and female will feed the chicks. The male may actually make more feeding visits than the female does.

They are adaptable and well-traveled.

Belted Kingfishers are found all across North America either as residents or migrants. They can live in most water habitats and can even spend breeding season in elevations up to 9,000 feet! In some areas, human activity such as gravel pits and road construction has actually help Belted Kingfishers by creating banks that can be used for nesting. Belted Kingfishers have also been found in some pretty far away places, such as Hawaii, The Netherlands, Galapagos Island, and Greenland.

You have to admit, Belted Kingfishers are pretty awesome! Have you ever seen a Belted Kingfisher?

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I'm a New Jersey native and recent New Hampshire transplant. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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