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Momotidae – Motmots

Lesson’s Motmot in Costa Rica: Photo by Jeff Hapeman

Momotidae, commonly known as motmots, are tropical birds known for their vibrant plumage and distinctive tail feathers, which often end in racket-shaped tips. These striking birds are typically found in dense forests or wooded habitats across Central and South America. With their unique appearance and distinctive call, motmots are often sought after by birdwatchers. They are known for their characteristic behavior of perching quietly, occasionally wagging their tails, while scanning for insects or small vertebrates. Motmots excavate burrows in earthen banks for nesting, where both parents participate in incubating eggs and caring for the young.

Overview of Momotidae

Motmots, inhabitants of Neotropical forests, are meticulous hunters, preying on large insects and small vertebrates. Despite their vibrant colors and occasional vocalizations, spotting motmots can be a challenge as they patiently wait for passing prey. Many feature two unique tail feathers shaped like rackets, formed through the natural shedding of weak barbs during grooming. It’s believed that their distinctive tail wagging may signal the detection of predators, as they freeze their feathered pendulums at irregular intervals. Known for their diligent nesting habits, motmots are among the most dedicated excavators and caregivers among coraciiform birds, yet surprisingly little is known about their nesting behaviors.