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Momotidae - Motmots

Motmot
Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa ©Sam Woods Website

The Momotidae or Motmots are a family of birds in the near passerine order Coraciiformes, which also includes the kingfishers, bee-eaters and rollers. All extant motmots are restricted to woodland or forest in the Neotropics, and the largest diversity is in Middle America. They have a colourful plumage and a relatively heavy bill. All except the Tody Motmot have relatively long tails that in some species have a distinctive racket-like tip.

They eat small prey such as insects and lizards, and will also take fruit. In Costa Rica, motmots have been observed feeding on poison dart frogs.

Like most of the Coraciiformes, motmots nest in tunnels in banks, laying about four white eggs. Some species form large colonies of up to 40 paired individuals. The eggs hatch after about 20 days, and the young leave the nest after another 30 days. Both parents care for the young.

Motmots often move their tail back and forth in a wag-display that commonly draws attention to an otherwise hidden bird. Research indicates that motmots perform the wag-display when they detect predators (based on studies on Turquoise-browed Motmot) and that the display is likely to communicate that the motmot is aware of the predator and is prepared to escape. This form of interspecific pursuit-deterrent signal provides a benefit to both the motmot and the predator: the display prevents the motmot from wasting time and energy fleeing, and the predator avoids a costly pursuit that is unlikely to result in capture. There is also evidence that the male tail, which is slightly larger than the female tail, functions as a sexual signal in the Yurquoise-browed Motmot.

In several species of motmots, the barbs near the ends of the two longest (central) tail feathers are weak and fall off due to abrasion with substrates, or fall off during preening, leaving a length of bare shaft, thus creating the racket shape of the tail. It was however wrongly believed in the past that the motmot shaped its tail by plucking part of the feather web to leave the racket. This was based on inaccurate reports made by Charles William Beebe. It has since been shown that these barbs are weakly attached and fall off during routine preening. There are however also several species where the tail is 'normal', these being the Tody Motmot, Blue-throated Motmot, Rufous-capped Motmot, and the Amazonian populations of the Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots.

According to the IOC there are 14 extant species in this family, which are:

Tody Motmot Hylomanes momotula

Blue-throated Motmot Aspatha gularis

Russet-crowned Motmot Momotus mexicanus
Blue-capped Motmot Momotus coeruliceps
Lesson's Motmot Momotus lessonii
Whooping Motmot Momotus subrufescens
Trinidad Motmot Momotus bahamensis
Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota
Andean Motmot Momotus aequatorialis

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii
Rufous-capped Motmot Baryphthengus ruficapillus

Keel-billed Motmot Electron carinatum
Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

Family Links

Motmots Momotidae

Family Account

Index to individual species accounts…

Motmots Momotidae

Family Account

Motmots are a small family of sit-and-wait arboreal predators in the New World tropics. Nearly all have the same basic shape: large head, strong bill, long body, and 7 of 10 species have a long tail with racquets at the end of the central rectrices.

Motmots Momotidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Species Links

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

Species Account

The turquoise-browed motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is a colourful, medium-sized bird of the motmot family, Momotidae. It inhabits Central America from south-east Mexico (mostly the Yucatán Peninsula), to Costa Rica, where it is common and not considered threatened.

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota

Cornell Species Account

The Amazonian Motmot is the most widespread, familiar motmot of the lowlands of South America east of the Andes.

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota

Species Account

The Amazonian motmot (Momotus momota) is a colourful near-passerine bird found in the Amazonian forests from eastern Venezuela to northeastern Argentina. This species and the blue-capped motmot, whooping motmot, Trinidad motmot, Lesson's motmot, and Andean motmot were all considered conspecific.

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

Species Account

The broad-billed motmot (Electron platyrhynchum) is a species of bird in the Momotidae family.

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Momotus platyrhynchus Leadbeater, 1829, Brazil; error = western Ecuador.

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

Species Account

The rufous motmot (Baryphthengus martii) is a near-passerine bird which is a resident breeder in rain forests from northeastern Honduras south to western Ecuador, northeastern Bolivia, and southwestern Brazil.

Rufous-capped Motmot Baryphthengus ruficapillus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Baryphonus ruficapillus Vieillot, 1818, Lima, Peru; error = south-east Brazil. Monotypic.

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota

BirdLife Species Account

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota

IUCN Species Status

Amazonian Motmot Momotus momota

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

IUCN Species Status

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

Cornell Species Account

Fairly common throughout its range, Broad-billed Motmot inhabits humid forest in foothills and lowlands.

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

BirdLife Species Account

Broad-billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

Cornell Species Account

The Rufous Motmot is is the second largest and arguably the most spectacular of the motmots, even though it lacks the bright, iridescent patches of turquoise blue on its head that are characteristic of many other motmot species.

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

BirdLife Species Account

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Prionites martii Spix, 1824, Pará, Brazil. Two subspecies recognized.

Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Rufous-capped Motmot Baryphthengus ruficapillus

Species Account

The rufous-capped motmot (Baryphthengus ruficapillus) is a species of bird in the Momotidae family. It is found in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

Rufous-capped Motmot Baryphthengus ruficapillus

Cornell Species Account

The Rufous-capped Motmot, which is endemic to the Atlantic Forest biome, was formerly usually considered to be conspecific with the Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii) of western Amazonia and Central America.

Rufous-capped Motmot Baryphthengus ruficapillus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

BirdLife Species Account

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

Cornell Species Account

The Turquoise-browed Motmot is surely one of the most flamboyantly plumaged of a remarkable family, and it is sufficiently distinctive from other motmots to be afforded its own genus.

Turquoise-browed Motmot Eumomota superciliosa

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Pyronites superciliosus Sandbach, 1837, Campeche, Mexico. Highly distinctive, with no very close relatives. Geographical variation within disjunct range is probably complex, but general pattern of darkest forms in more humid areas, tawnier forms coastal, greener ones isolated in interior, and those in far S distinctly pale; further study required. Seven subspecies currently recognized.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 14

Photographers & Artists

Blue-crowned Motmot Momotus momota

Gallery

Painting

Blue-crowned Motmot Momotus momota

Gallery

Very good image

Blue-crowned Motmot Momotus momota

Gallery

Good image