Bucconidae – Puffbirds

Chaco Puffbird Nystalus striatipectus ©Clayton Burne Website

The Bucconidae or Puffbirds and their relatives are a near passerine family of tropical tree-dwelling insectivorous birds that are found from South America up to Mexico. Together with their closest relatives, the jacamars, they form a divergent lineage within the order Piciformes, though the two families are sometimes elevated to a separate order Galbuliformes. Lacking the iridescent colours of the jacamars, puffbirds are mainly brown, rufous or grey, with large heads, large eyes, and flattened bills with a hooked tip. Their loose, abundant plumage and short tails makes them look stout and puffy, giving rise to the English name of the family. The species range in size from the Rufous-capped Nunlet, at 13cm and 14g, to the White-necked Puffbird, at up to 29cm and 106g.

Puffbirds are found from Mexico to southern Brazil, with the greatest variety of species found in the Amazon Basin. They live in forested or wooded habitats, including lowland, foothills, and open woodland. The White-faced Nunbird is the only member of this species known to live in highlands.The Swallow-winged Puffbird also lives in more open country. No species of puffbirds have been recorded of moving any significant distance beyond its home territory.

Due to their secretive nature, puffbirds vocalise very rarely, most often at dawn and dusk. The main vocalisations consists of repeated and high-pitched whistles. The nunbirds are the most vocal of the family; they have a wide repertoire of calls and often give very loud shouts. They are by nature arboreal. Mostly secretive, they are found singly or in small family groups. Species of the genus Monasa, known as nunbirds, are more gregarious and found in flocks.

Puffbirds are sit-and-wait hunters, perching unmoving for long periods, while watching for insect prey. As well as arthropods, they may eat small lizards and plant material. Arthropod exoskeletons are regurgitated as pellets. The Swallow-winged Puffbird is the only member in the family that is known to capture insects from open perches.

The breeding behaviour of puffbirds is not well known. Nests are burrows in dirt, rotten wood or termite mounds. They are known to lay clutches of two or three eggs. The eggs are round, small, and white. The incubation period is around 15 days, and performed by both parents. Born blind and naked, the young can crawl to the entrance of the nest burrow at one or two days of age. There, their mother feeds them partly chewed insects. They fledge at around 20 to 21 days.

According to the IOC there are 38 extant species of Puffbirds, Nunbirds and allies in the family Bucconidae; they are:

White-necked Puffbird Notharchus hyperrhynchus
Guianan Puffbird Notharchus macrorhynchos
Buff-bellied Puffbird Notharchus swainsoni
Black-breasted Puffbird Notharchus pectoralis
Brown-banded Puffbird Notharchus ordii
Pied Puffbird Notharchus tectus

Chestnut-capped Puffbird Bucco macrodactylus
Spotted Puffbird Bucco tamatia
Sooty-capped Puffbird Bucco noanamae
Collared Puffbird Bucco capensis

Barred Puffbird Nystalus radiatus
White-eared Puffbird Nystalus chacuru
Eastern Striolated Puffbird Nystalus striolatus
Western Striolated Puffbird Nystalus obamai
Caatinga Puffbird Nystalus maculatus
Chaco Puffbird Nystalus striatipectus

Russet-throated Puffbird Hypnelus ruficollis
Two-banded Puffbird Hypnelus bicinctus

Crescent-chested Puffbird Malacoptila striata
White-chested Puffbird Malacoptila fusca
Semicollared Puffbird Malacoptila semicincta
Black-streaked Puffbird Malacoptila fulvogularis
Rufous-necked Puffbird Malacoptila rufa
White-whiskered Puffbird Malacoptila panamensis
Moustached Puffbird Malacoptila mystacalis

Lanceolated Monklet Micromonacha lanceolata

Rusty-breasted Nunlet Nonnula rubecula
Fulvous-chinned Nunlet Nonnula sclateri
Brown Nunlet Nonnula brunnea
Grey-cheeked Nunlet Nonnula frontalis
Rufous-capped Nunlet Nonnula ruficapilla
Chestnut-headed Nunlet Nonnula amaurocephala

White-faced Nunbird Hapaloptila castanea

Black Nunbird Monasa atra
Black-fronted Nunbird Monasa nigrifrons
White-fronted Nunbird Monasa morphoeus
Yellow-billed Nunbird Monasa flavirostris

Swallow-winged Puffbird Chelidoptera tenebrosa

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 35

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