The Blue-crowned Motmots (Momotus momota) have been spending a lot of time around a Nance tree (Byrsonima crassifolia), a prolific fruit producing tree in the garden here at Friends of the Osa’s Osa Biodiversity Center. Lately there have been quite a few hanging around giving their distinctive soft low pitch “moot moot” call at dawn which has sounded like a large choral group, each bird with its own perfectly timed solo, and the group never missing a beat. With the Nance fruiting right next to the house, one of them actually flew through the front door the other day making me realize that it was time to share this species with you on the blog. Oh and by the way, he or she did find its way out of the house fairly quickly.
In this species the male and female look alike and as you can see from Alan Dahl’s photograph, they are brilliantly colored. Motmots in general have two very distinct features worth noting: the racquet-shaped tail and a heavily serrated bill. The tail is more than half the birds total length and has two long central feathers. During feather preening sections of the tail barbs fall off leaving the exposed vane. The tip of the feather or the racquet remains intact forming what looks like a racquet head. Motmots are famous for slowly and methodically swinging their tail feather back and forth like a pendulum.
The bill has tooth like serrations allowing them to take small snakes and lizards as well as other insects and tear them apart. They also accompany army ant swarms picking off what the other birds kick-up from the ground. And yes, they like fruit.
A third and very interesting characteristic of the Motmot is the fact that they dig their nest into burrows. They are most closely related to Kingfishes and todies which also dig into burrows. Motmots excavate tunnels in the bank of a road or stream or in the side of a pit or hollow in the ground. Their nests are unlined and can wind as far back as 5 – 14 feet (1.5 – 4 meters). Now I don’t know about you all but I have a hard time seeing such a beautiful majestic bird digging a long tunnel in the dirt and coming out looking that good, but I truly hope to see it someday.
You can see the Blue-crowned Motmot all over Costa Rica, and at least at the moment, all over Cerro Osa on the Osa Peninsula. You can also find them from Mexico down through Argentina and in just about any type of habitat most often perched in the shade saying “moot moot, moot moot”!
We would like to thank Alan Dahl for allowing us to showcase his photographs. You can find his work at Focused On Nature.
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