Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

Photo by Ryan Brady Belted Kingfisher by Ryan BradyBelted Kingfisher distribution map


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

Throughout its range, the Belted Kingfisher inhabits riparian areas with extensive open running waters in which prey are clearly visible. In Wisconsin, it occurs in northern swamps and bogs (Hoffman and Mossman 1993), Lake Superior coastal wetlands (Elias and Meeker 1999), southern Wisconsin floodplain forests (Mossman 1999), sedge meadows, (Mossman and Sample 1990), cranberry bogs (Jorgensen and Naumann 1993), deep marshes and shallow open water habitats (Hoffman 1990) and other upland and lowland sites with appropriate nesting substrates (Berner 2006). Foraging areas can be up to 3.2 km from nest sites, which generally consist of earthen banks devoid of vegetation. The Belted Kingfisher excavates burrows extending 1-2 meters into sand banks, gravel pits, or other steep, exposed sandy soil sites. Tunnels often slope upward from the entrance, possibly to prevent flooding the nest (Hamas 1994).

Habitat Availability

Because the Belted Kingfisher uses a wide variety of aquatic habitats, it is difficult to describe habitat availability in the state. Local populations may be most limited by the availability of suitable nest sites, which are ephemeral and largely dependent on erosion. Flood control and bank stabilization activities often result in loss or alteration of natural nest sites. However, road cuts, gravel and sand quarries, and other activities that create vertical banks in friable soils can benefit this species, assuming disturbance is minimized during the nesting period. Factors that reduce availability and visibility of aquatic prey, such as sedimentation, water pollution, and proliferation of carp and other invasive species can lessen the suitability of foraging areas (Hamas 1994).  

Population Concerns

Breeding Bird Survey data suggest significant population declines range-wide and non-significant declines in Wisconsin (Sauer et al. 2005). The Belted Kingfisher is considered a fairly common migrant and summer resident in Wisconsin. During the six-year period of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, observers confirmed breeding in 31% of the surveyed quads (Berner 2006). Maintaining water quality and suitable nesting sites are essential to the conservation of the Belted Kingfisher (Hamas 1994).

Recommended Management

Measures that improve or maintain high water quality standards will help protect the integrity of foraging sites for the Belted Kingfisher. Because this species may be limited by the availability of nest sites, all sites with active burrows or suitable substrates should be identified and conserved in Wisconsin. Wherever possible, managers should consider maintaining natural cycles (i.e., flooding and erosion) in riparian ecosystems, which will benefit many riparian-associated species. However, public education on the importance of these natural processes is needed. Because high levels of human disturbance can prevent the use of otherwise suitable habitat (Mazeika et al. 2006), nest sites at quarries and other human-altered habitats would benefit from fewer disturbances during the breeding season.

Research Needs

Factors contributing to this species’ decline need to be identified and mitigated. Artificial nest burrow construction warrants study and more research also is needed into reproductive success at commercial sand and gravel operations. Because this species is not well-monitored by conventional techniques, improved survey methods are needed.

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

Website by J Davis Web Design