Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
HABITAT: Occurs in the vicinity of ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams, even rocky seacoasts near areas of exposed vertical ground such as bluffs, road cuts, gravel pits, or sandbanks. Prefers small, clear bodies of water to large lakes. In winter, frequents ice-free waters that allow access to food.
SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Nests preferably within 1 mile of water with low turbidity supporting adequate aquatic animal populations, and perches near water to sight prey.
NEST: Typically excavates a nest burrow 3 to 6 feet, up to 15 feet, deep in a bank with sandy, gravelly, or clay soil. Constructs burrow at least 5 feet above level ground or water, and usually within 3 feet of the top of a bank. Occasionally locates burrow far from water, and at times may have to forage up to 5 miles from the nest site. Builds a nest cavity that is an enlarged area at the end of the burrow, often lined with disgorged food pellets.
FOOD: Feeds primarily on fish averaging 3 to 4 inches, caught by diving into water. Forages from a perch or while hovering over water. Also may eat crayfish, mollusks, frogs, tadpoles, lizards, newts, mice, large insects, and occasionally fleshy fruits.
REFERENCES: Cornwall 1963, DeGraff et al. 1980, Johnsgard 1979, Terres 1930, White 1953.