A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Belted Kingfisher is fairly common along freshwater waterways throughout the county, but also common around the Bodega Bay area. Numbers increase during the winter months when migrants move down from the north. Usually solitary. Often seen perching on branches over water, searching for fish, frogs, small crustaceans, or other suitable food. May be seen hovering over water for the same purpose. Dives head-first after prey. Makes a distinctive, dry, clattering sound that can be heard over long distances. Formerly placed in the genus Ceryle. Older sources will refer to this bird as Ceryle alcyon.

Hard to mistake for any other bird, Belted Kingfisher is recognized by its very large head; long, heavy bill; and shaggy crest that usually looks like it's got a notch in the middle. Mostly slate blue, but with a thick white ring around the neck and a blue belt across the chest--hence the common name--and white underparts. Unlike most birds, the female is more brightly colored than the male, with rufous sides and a rufous band across the upper belly, both lacking in the male. In young females, like the bird pictured above, the rufous band on the belly may be incomplete. Note also the white spot just in front of the eye, present in both sexes. Distinctive flight style (uneven wingbeats, often described as suggesting the bird is "changing gears" ) may allow identification at great distances. Pale patch in wings at base of primaries may be visible in flight at closer ranges.   

Known to breed along major waterways around the county and at Bodega Harbor. Nests in horizontal holes, usually in river banks. These are excavated by by the male and female, which share in caring for young. According to The Birder's Handbook, nests are usually 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) deep but may be as much as 15 feet (4.5 meters) deep. Prefers to dig in sandy soil.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 78

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 271

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 90

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 280

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 310

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 369-370

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 336

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 226

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 265

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 208

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 99

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 164-166

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 46

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 214

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 234

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 206

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 251

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 435

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 227

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Belted Kingfisher



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Belted Kingfisher, Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa, December 5, 2011

Belted Kingfisher

Megaceryle alcyon

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County