Galbulidae – Jacamars

Great Jacamar Jacamerops aureus ©John Afdem Website

The Galbulidae or Jacamars are a family of near passerine birds from tropical South and Central America, extending up to Mexico. The family contains five genera and 18 species. The family is closely related to the puffbirds, another Neotropical family, and the two families are often separated into their own order, Galbuliformes, separate from the Piciformes. They are principally birds of low-altitude woodlands and forests, and particularly of forest edge and canopy.

Jacamars are small to medium-sized perching birds, 14cm to 34cm in length and weighing 17g to 75g.They are elegant, glossy birds with long bills and tails. In appearance and behaviour they resemble the Old World bee-eaters, as most aerial insectivores tend to have short, wide bills rather than long, thin ones. The legs are short and weak, and the feet are zygodactylic (two forward-pointing toes, two backward-pointing). Their plumage is often bright and highly iridescent, although it is quite dull in a few species. There are minor differences in plumage based on sex, males often having a white patch on the breast.

They are insectivores, taking a variety of insect prey (many specialise on butterflies and moths) by hawking in the air. Birds sit in favoured perches and sally towards the prey when it is close enough. Only the Great Jacamar varies from the rest of the family, taking prey by gleaning and occasionally taking small lizards and spiders.

Their breeding systems have not been studied in depth. They are thought to generally be monogamous, although a few species are thought to engage in cooperative breeding sometimes, with several adults sharing duties. The family nests in holes either in the soil or in arboreal termite mounds. Ground-nesting species usually nest in the banks of rivers (or, more recently, roads), although if these are not available they will nest in the soil held by the roots of fallen trees. Bank-nesting jacamars can sometimes be loosely colonial. Clutch sizes are between one and four eggs, and usually more than one. Both parents participate in incubation. Little is known about the incubation times of most species, but it lasts for between 19 & 26 days in the Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Chicks are born with down feathers, unique among the piciformes.

There are generally considered to be 18 species within this family, which are:

White-eared Jacamar Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis
Purus Jacamar Galbalcyrhynchus purusianus

Dusky-backed Jacamar Brachygalba salmoni
Pale-headed Jacamar Brachygalba goeringi
Brown Jacamar Brachygalba lugubris
White-throated Jacamar Brachygalba albogularis

Three-toed Jacamar Jacamaralcyon tridactyla

Yellow-billed Jacamar Galbula albirostris
Blue-necked Jacamar Galbula cyanicollis
Rufous-tailed Jacamar Galbula ruficauda
Green-tailed Jacamar Galbula galbula
Coppery-chested Jacamar Galbula pastazae
White-chinned Jacamar Galbula tombacea
Bluish-fronted Jacamar Galbula cyanescens
Purplish Jacamar Galbula chalcothorax
Bronzy Jacamar Galbula leucogastra
Paradise Jacamar Galbula dea

Great Jacamar Jacamerops aureus

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 18

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