April 2016

Vol. 44, No. 2

Field Notes: Belted Kingfisher Skims the Water

George Gove and Judy Gordon

Belted Kingfisher. Photograph © Shawn P. Carey.

We saw a Belted Kingfisher behaving unexpectedly at Cedar Meadow Pond in Leicester on Sunday, December 6, 2015. It was flying across the pond a few inches above the surface and would skim the water for several feet like a stone one skips across a pond, actually breaking the surface of the water. The bird continued this behavior first heading in one direction across the pond and then turning and flying in the opposite direction, skimming the whole time. It made a few passes back and forth across the pond. We finally lost sight of it when it flew farther out on the pond because we were looking through shrub and tree branches.

We had never seen this type of behavior by a kingfisher. It reminded us of swallows skimming to drink.

Arthur Cleveland Bent (1940) quoted a Mr. Carey (1909) who noted similar behavior in Belted Kingfishers:

The Kingfisher’s flight is remarkable for its beauty. How easily those long wings carry him about, as he skims so close over the water that their tips are sometimes wetted, or, as he hovers, his body appearing absolutely motionless, in that wonderful way which few birds can equal, for indefinite periods of time. Sometimes, especially in water half a foot or less in depth, he dives while flying nearly parallel to its surface. Sometimes, in his journeys from perch to perch when fish are plentiful, he dips again and again into the water in this way, reminding one of the Swallow as he gracefully touches the water here and there in his flight over the mill pond. Again, he drops like a falling stone in a nearly perpendicular line upon his fishy prey.


  • Bent, A. C. 1940. Belted Kingfisher. Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds. Available online. Accessed January 11, 2016.

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