Todidae – Todies

Cuban Tody Todus multicolor ©Adam Riley Website

Coraciiformes; Todidae

The Tody family, Todidae, is endemic to the Greater Antilles and is thought to have evolved 6-7 million years ago. Five modern tody species are endemic on 4 islands: Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Tody, Todus mexicanus); Jamaica (Jamaican Tody, T. todus); Cuba (Cuban Tody, T. multicolor); and Hispaniola (Narrow-billed Tody, T. angustirostris, and Broad-billed Tody, T. subulatus).

They are all tiny, brightly coloured forest birds with a short tail, emerald green upper parts, and a bright red throat and bill. The undersides are washed with light shades of different colours in the five species: yellow, green, red or blue.

The habits of the Puerto Rican Tody are fairly typical: This species sits quietly, with its bill tilted up, as it rapidly scans the forest under-story for insect prey. This posture accounts for its local name: San Pedrito (Little Saint Peter). It sits so still that it is often hard to see despite its bright colours. Suddenly it will fly up to grab an insect off the underside of a leaf or branch, and then land on a new perch. Less commonly it catches flying insects. The Puerto Rican Tody eats insects, including katydids, grasshoppers, crickets, earwigs, dragonflies, flies (Diptera); and beetles (Coleoptera); as well as spiders, and occasional small lizards and fruit. When excited, the Tody bobs its body up and down.

Average territory size in lowland forest is 0.7 hectares (1.8 acres); compared to two hectares per pair at higher elevations where insect prey is less abundant.

The breeding behaviour of the Tody is unusual among Puerto Rico birds. Every year, each pair digs a narrow, 25-35 cm. long burrow with a right angle, in an earth bank over an eight-week period, typically between February and May. The female lays 2-4 white eggs. Each egg is equivalent to one quarter of the body weight of the female: more than twice as heavy, proportionately, as in most other bird species. The Tody can lower its body temperature by up to 11 degrees Centigrade to conserve heat during cold weather, especially when breeding. Both sexes incubate the eggs over a period of about 21 days. Sometimes todies other than the parents assist in incubation and raising the young.

Status And Conservation: Although common forest species on their respective islands, they suffer from nest predation by the introduced mongoose. In historical times, humans captured them for food.

The above account is excerpted from the book and CD-ROM, Puerto Rico’s Birds in Photographs, by Mark W. Oberle Editorial Humanitas Press, San Juan, PR. 2000, 2nd ed, (ISBN 0965010414).
It has 1300 photos, 170+ audio clips, and natural history accounts (English text in the book; complete Spanish and English text plus web links on the CD-ROM).


Kepler, A.K. 1977. Comparative study of the Todies (Todidae): with emphasis on the Puerto Rican Tody (Todus mexicanus). Nuttall Ornithology Club #16. Cambridge, MA. 190pp.
Kepler, A.K. 2001. Order Coraciiformes, Family Todidae (Todies) in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, eds. Handbook of Birds of the World, Vol. 6. Mousebirds to hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Oberle, M. W. 2000. Puerto Rico’s Birds in Photographs, Editorial Humanitas Press, San Juan, PR. (ISBN 0965010414).
Raffaele, H.A., J.W. Wiley, O.H. Garrido, A.R. Keith, and J.I. Raffaele. 1998. Guide to the birds of the West Indies. Princeton.

According to the IOC the family Todidae consists of just five species; they are:

Cuban Tody Todus multicolor
Broad-billed Tody Todus subulatus
Narrow-billed Tody Todus angustirostris
Jamaican Tody Todus todus
Puerto Rican Tody Todus mexicanus

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 5

Useful Information
  • Comparative study of the Todies (Todidae): with emphasis on the Puerto Rican Tody Todus mexicanus

    Kepler, A.K. 1977. Nuttall Ornithology Club #16. Cambridge, MA. 190pp.
Photographers & Artists
  • Jamaican Tody Todus todus

    Good photograph…

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