Bird of the Week: Belted Kingfisher

The Belted Kingfisher is only about the size of a blackbird or robin, but it seems to wear the bill of a much larger bird. This hefty implement is the kingfisher’s weapon of choice, used to spear fishes, amphibians, and crustaceans (and if that doesn’t do the job, a few whacks on a rock or fencepost will finish off the unlucky prey). In territorial matters, the preferred tool is the voice: the raucous, rattling call of a male kingfisher–which is actually drabber than the female’s–is hard to miss, echoing over creeks and rivers from Alaska to Venezuela. Interestingly, a distant cousin of the Belted Kingfisher is the Kookaburra, another bird known for its voice. The Belted Kingfisher’s scientific name, alcyon, comes from the Greek word for “kingfisher,” which is the source of the English word “halcyon”. Meaning “a peaceful and idyllic time,” the phrase “halcyon days” refers to the very shortest days of the year, when the god Aeolus was said to still the winds of winter to allow the kingfishers to lay their eggs in safety.

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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