Rufous Motmot - Watchman of the Tropical Rainforest
The Motmot, a near passerine family of birds, is endemic to the tropical rainforest of the neotropics. It is a curious creature with an intriguing habit of twitching its tail reminiscent of a pendulum. Of the ten species of Motmot that inhabit central and south America, four species in three genera can be observed within Ecuador. The Rufous Motmot can be encountered on both slopes of the Andes Mountains.
The Rufous Motmot dwells within the humid tropical rainforest from Honduras to southwest Ecuador on the western slope and along the eastern slope from southeast Colombia to western Bolivia, eastward to western and central Brazil. In eastern Ecuador it is found mainly in terra firme forest (areas of rainforest not inundated by flooded rivers). Along the western slope it can be found from Pichincha province south to Manabí, northern Los Rios and El Oro. There are two races that reside within Ecuador, Martii in the east and Semifufus in the west
The Rufous Motmot is a large bird 43 – 46 cm (17 – 18 in) in length. It can be found inhabiting the lower growth of the tropical rainforest in the lowlands and foothills of both slopes, generally ranging below 900 m (3000 ft). The beak is robust and heavily serrated. The tail is long and slender and in the west exhibits a racket at its termination. (This racket is very fragile and can easily be worn or broken off.) This feature is absent in the birds of the eastern slope. The tail has a teal hue at the top and fades to a black at the end. It has a broad black mask that extends past the eyes and contrasts beautifully with its rufous head, neck and under parts. The upper parts are green and the primary feathers reveal a violet-blue edging. There is a small black spot on the breast and the lower belly is a blue-green.
The Rufous Motmot looks very similar to its smaller cousin, the Broad-billed Motmot. Both inhabit the same range and neither of the eastern slope races has the tail racket. The Broad-billed is about 10 cm (4 in) shorter than the former and has a very distinctive wide and flat bill. It exhibits a much larger chest spot and more extensive green on the belly. There is also a lack of the characteristic violet-blue edging to the wings.
Habits and Habitats
The Rufous Motmot is a timid bird. Although it is brilliantly colored it is quite difficult to locate due to its stealth and diffidence. Perching on lower branches, it has a peculiar habit of swinging its tail back and forth in a pendulum-like fashion when it senses danger. (It is believed that this movement of the tail may also be part of its mating ritual.) Although it was previously thought that the racket at the end of the tail was preened into that form, it is now known that this is a natural occurrence.
It is generally observed in pairs although it may join small groups. It will forage for insects and small lizards among the thick foliage and can be seen feasting on colonies of army ants.
The Rufous Motmot is a particularly beautiful and fascinating bird of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Its peculiar habits and attractive appearance make it a joy to observe in the wild. With some patients and a quiet manner, the avid birder can witness this extraordinary species while traveling through the neotropics.
Within Ecuador, the Rufous Motmot can be seen at Buenaventura Reserve, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Mindo Valley, Napo River Basin, Pedro Vicente Maldonado, Rio Canande Reserve, Rio Palenque Reserve, Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, and Tinalandia.
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