If you love paddling, swimming or just walking along the banks of creeks and rivers like I do, you are probably familiar with the head-turning chatter of the Belted Kingfisher as it flies upstream, making its way between streamside perches.  It’s a bird so closely linked to lakes and rivers that it actually nests in dirt burrows that it excavates in banks along the water.

Belted Kingfisher
The Belted Kingfisher feeds almost exclusively on aquatic prey, and depends on clean water. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Daniel Kelch.
The Belted Kingfisher lives up to its name — fish are its primary food source, and they can be seen hovering over the water before plunging headfirst to grab fish just below the surface in their long, sturdy bills.  Sadly, fish-eating species like the Belted Kingfisher and Bald Eagles have been found to have elevated levels of mercury in the northeastern US.

Mercury becomes transformed to methylmercury through microbial action in the environment and can cause death, reduce fertility and affect growth and behavior in wildlife.  Methylmercury accumulates in fish, so mercury pollution puts fish-eating (“piscivorous”) species at risk.  One study showed that mercury can cause subtle changes to a kingfisher’s plumage, altering how potential mates might see each other.

Mercury pollution is a growing concern for this and other species that depend upon clean waters for their survival.