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Piedmont birding


Watch for belted kingfisher near streams and rivers

By Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff writes on birding in the Piedmont.

For the last few weeks I have been hearing the unmistakable rattle of a belted kingfisher coming from the small pond next to my house. A kingfisher spent part of most days last winter at this pond, and apparently it has returned. It is a small pond, but as long as it has plenty of fish – and it does – a kingfisher will fish it. I’ve even seen them make a good living along narrow ditches down east.

Belted kingfishers are large, noisy and conspicuous birds that frequent any type of water in our area. Though some individuals nest here, the local population is bolstered by migrants from the North coming into our area to spend the winter. During the breeding season the local birds are generally restricted to areas where appropriate nest sites are available.

Belted kingfishers are the only local species of bird that burrows into the ground to lay eggs. For this, they need a steep stream or river bank in which to make their horizontal tunnels. After breeding, the birds may disperse to other waters where steep banks do not occur. That may be why I went all summer without hearing one at my pond.

Even many nonbirders know the belted kingfisher when they see or hear it. Their call is a grating, raucous rattle given just about every time one takes off from a perch, prepares to land, or even when flying in circles around a lake. In short, they can be incessantly noisy. Even if you don’t know what a kingfisher looks like, I’ll bet you have heard one.

I like the sound though. It is as unique as the bird itself. Belted kingfishers have a rough, frizzy “hairdo,” easily seen when they perch conspicuously on a roadside wire or dead tree at the edge of a beaver pond. When hungry they will often hover high over the water, then plunge-dive for small to medium-sized fish. Sometimes they will just jump off a low perch and dive headfirst into the water, really a rather comical sight. If you locate one of these fascinating birds, take some time to watch it. You may be highly entertained.

Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the Southern Piedmont:
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