- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; regularly observed during the winter months, especially along open streams in southern and central regions of the state. The Belted Kingfisher was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Broadly distributed across Canada and Alaska south of the tree line, and throughout all but the very southern reaches of the United States. The Belted Kingfisher is sparsely distributed throughout its breeding range (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight; designated a Minnesota Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Considered a partial migrant; birds can survive cold temperatures if open water is available. Most birds in Canada and Alaska migrate; migrants winter in the southern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.
A diver that feeds primarily on small fish and occasionally on other vertebrates and invertebrates.
Burrow in earthen bank.
The Belted Kingfisher is a common member of Minnesota’s avifauna. In 1932 Roberts remarked that its call, a mechanical sounding rattle, “is a common and familiar sound about the lakes and streams of Minnesota.” Even in the early 1900s, a few birds were known to stay through the winter in areas of southern Minnesota where flowing waters remained ice-free. As widespread as the species was, confirmed nesting reports (nests with eggs) were available from only three counties: Hennepin, Meeker, and Polk. Inferred nesting reports (nest holes and young fledglings) were available from Goodhue County and the Mille Lacs region.
Little had changed when Green and Janssen (1975) wrote their updated account of the species 40 years later. Janssen (1987) pointed out that it was less common in the northwestern region and delineated 13 counties, widely spread across the state, where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) would later identify 18 counties with confirmed nesting since 1970 (they added 6 counties to Janssen’s original list and deleted 1: Clearwater). Although the kingfisher’s breeding distribution changed little over the years, the number and distribution of wintering reports increased and included occasional observations reported as far north as the Canadian border. The majority of reports were of birds that delayed migration until waters froze over in December; reports of overwintering birds were far less common (Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union 2016).
Field biologists with the Minnesota Biological Survey have reported 290 breeding observation locations for the Belted Kingfisher. Once again these records are widely dispersed across the state, although more sparsely distributed in the northwestern counties (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported a total of 1,462 kingfisher records in 23.6% (1,122/4,761) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 28.7% (671/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding evidence was confirmed in 2.3% (110) of the blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The species was reported in all but 1 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (Red Lake) and was confirmed nesting in 42 counties (two blocks straddled two counties, Sibley/Le Sueur and Carver/Scott); 28 of the counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998). The species was most commonly encountered in the Laurentian Mixed Forest and Eastern Broadleaf Forest ecological provinces and least common in the Red River Valley and Aspen Parklands.
As was the case with many cavity-nesting species, one of the challenges in reviewing atlas records was deciding when to accept a record for an unused nest (UN) as a valid breeding record. It was not uncommon for observers to find holes in cut banks that appeared from their size to have been excavated by kingfishers. Because cavities may remain intact for some time, the challenge was whether to ascribe their use to the five-year atlas period. The following criteria were developed for accepting an “unoccupied nest” record: (1) there were other acceptable kingfisher records in the block the same year; and (2) the record was accompanied with notes regarding the species’ presence nearby. If neither of these criteria was met, then the decision was to accept records from the last two years of the atlas (2012–2013) and invalidate those from the first three years (2009–2011) on the premise that the use of those reported early in the atlas may have predated the atlas survey period.
Overall, it appears that the breeding distribution and abundance of the Belted Kingfisher has changed little since Roberts wrote the first comprehensive account of the species in 1932. However, warmer winter temperatures have increased the number of birds that linger here each winter until waters freeze over. The same trend appears true for other states and provinces in the Upper Midwest. Although numbers have declined in most areas, the species’ widespread breeding distribution remains unchanged (e.g., Cadman et al. 2007; Chartier et al. 2013; Cutright et al. 2006; Iowa Ornithologists’ Union 2017; Rodewald et al. 2016).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.