“The bluish band on the breast of the kingfisher leaves the pure white beneath in the form of a heart.” — Henry David Thoreau, 1855

She spreads her wings wide in greeting, revealing not one, but two heart shapes on her  breast.  The upper heart is the color of twilight, each feather a softening of day into night. The heart below is moon white, defined by the glowing fire embers of her namesake belt that drapes down her sides.

He touches down on the same perch, a few feet away. The branch sways. Their tiny feet clasp the curve of roughened bark. He has only one heart to offer her. His is also the blues and grays of evening, dipping down to a point on a breast the color of  whitewater.

Belted kingfishers are heart birds. They dwell in the passion of wild waters that spray diamond sparkles at will into the blinding sun.  Their love song is the skipping stone skittering across the river.

Belted Kingfishers — female (juvenile) on left and male on right–photo by Charles Wheeler.

Kingfishers know the art of the hover, to beat their wings in one place high above the currents with their heads steady. Pause. Stay. Treasure the beauty of this one moment. Hold the gaze of your loved one. Study every fleck of color in their eyes and ponder on the myriad of shades. Are green eyes green? Or are they layered hues of fern, pine, and moss flecked in gold?

The eye of the kingfisher is a glistening obsidian black. The light of sun reflects on an orb of such acuity, no minnow is safe. When a male courts a female, he may bring her a gift of a silvery, four-inch trout. He will regard her as she tips her head back and swallows the fish headfirst. Will his heart swell with ….love?

Belted kingfisher female (juvenile) by Charles Wheeler

I do not know. What I do know is what I’ve witnessed. Each spring, kingfishers pair up on a stretch of prime stream for nesting, defined by an earthen bank safe from floodwaters and highly diggable for excavating a nest burrow.

I’ve watched a male kingfisher ascending the sky, swooping earthwards, and pulling up like a stunt pilot, all for the pleasure of the female who follows his aerial path with her head tilted and dagger bill tracking the invisible calligraphy. Soon, she flew up to join him and they seemed to vaporize above the creekside ponderosas. I listened to their receding calls like laughing lovers holding hands and running downhill feeling weightless, breathless.


Kingfishers remind me of something else that is vital to love and friendship. They are funny. Yes. Truly. Never fails. That head is oversized in proportion to the body. The roughened, two-part crest is unruly. That stubby often flicking tail? Comical. And that call? Laughing…laughing.  Life can be serious enough. Let our love run like a river, slowing in deep pools and tumbling carefree.

Yes, the kingfisher is the heart bird  that lifts us skyward and smiling, the bird that thrives in the romance of waterways, and the bird that reminds us to pause for love. Hover. Plunge. Fly. Ponder. Find the wonder.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Belted Kingfisher female (photo by Charles Wheeler)