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Belted Kingfisher Nests

5-18-17 female kingfisher 025I unintentionally neglected to mention the diameter of the holes in yesterday’s Mystery Photo. They were approximately 5” wide. Bank Swallow nest holes, similar looking and also dug into banks, are anywhere from 1 ½” to 3” in diameter. Being colonial nesters, Bank Swallows also typically have many more nests in a given bank (see photo inset) than Belted Kingfishers, which usually have one but may have several in a single bank, only one of which they occurpy during a given season.

After courtship takes place, a pair of Belted Kingfishers flies to a sand bank in a road cut, landfill or sand/gravel pit that is usually near water, and proceed to excavate their nesting tunnel. The male begins to slash and probe the soil with his bill while the female remains perched nearby, calling the distinctive rattling call of Belted Kingfishers. She eventually lends a hand (bill) and they call to each other throughout the construction of their nest.

The tunnel extends three to six feet into the bank, ending with an unlined chamber. (A bed of undigested fish bones, scales and arthropod exoskeletons from regurgitated pellets eventually forms.) Typically the tunnel slopes upward from the entrance, which may help drain any water that accumulates in the nest. Furrows directly below the bottom of the nest hole are made by the feet of the birds as they enter and leave the nest.

Belted Kingfishers are starting to lay their six to seven eggs which will begin hatching in three to four weeks. (Photo:  female Belted Kingfisher)

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6 responses

  1. Alan M Stoops

    You mention three kinds of spots the kingfishers might nest: road cut, landfill or sand/gravel pit. All human-created situations. Of course they nest in natural embankments as well, so I wonder if their population numbers have increased because of human activity. Do you know anything about that?

    May 18, 2017 at 6:50 am

    • I would think your hypothesis is correct, Al, but according to Cornell, their population has slightly declined in the East over the last few decades.

      May 18, 2017 at 7:00 am

      • Alan M Stoops

        Yes, but road cuts, landfills and sandpits have probably been ubiquitous for over a century, so I guess there would have to have been records going back quite a ways to see if there’d been an effect. I wonder what the cause of the decline is; could be just natural fluctuations, I suppose.

        May 18, 2017 at 7:04 am

  2. I took great delight on a trip to Botswana last year in seeing two different species of kingfishers using similar nests in river banks. Many thanks for your continued sharing of your curiosity!

    May 18, 2017 at 8:07 am

  3. Alice Pratt

    Wondering why the Kingfishers & Bank Swallows aren’t concerned about mudslides or more construction where their nests are.

    May 18, 2017 at 8:57 am

  4. Alice Pratt

    And watersnakes who could easily steal eggs 😨

    May 18, 2017 at 8:58 am

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