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Rufous Motmot - Watchman of the Tropical Rainforest

Updated on May 22, 2011
Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii)
Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii) | Source

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.

Rufous Motmot
Rufous Motmot | Source

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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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Dear teacher, this beauty is amazing! thank you very much for sharing with me!


    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Pamela. I appreciate the share. Been very busy lately writing a book and haven't had much time for hubs. Glad you enjoyed.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 

      6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      ColibriPhoto, this is another superb hub you've done down there in Ecuador. I'm sharing this with my followers because I don't think enough people know about your exquisite photographs and hubs of the birds down there. Thanks for SHARING is what we as hubbers can put in the comment box to let the author know we have shared their hub. Have a great day.

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Nick. They are a fascinating bird.

    • nickupton profile image


      7 years ago from Bangkok

      Great little article.

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Stephanie, It is indeed a beautiful bird. It can sit still for long periods of time causing it to blend in with its surroundings. But with a little practice you can learn to find it among the vegetation. It doesn't start moving its tail until it senses danger.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      ColibriPhoto, thanks for this article. You certainly did pick a bigger bird, but it is interesting that you say it can be hard to locate despite its color, size, and being on lower branches. This bird has very sharp coloration. I love the fact about it moving its tail like a pendulum. It reminds me of a bird I saw on the Planet Earth series in the rain forest that makes a clicking sound as it "claps" it wings and moves its head back and forth to attract a mate. Great hub!

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Tsmog. It is always a delight to watch birds going about their daily lives. They have such wonderful personalities. And here there are so many to see that there is never a dull moment.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      7 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Wonderful article, ColibriPhoto, enjoyed reading this. Especially since I am sitting at my desk overlooking my garden expecting Hooded Orioles to begin feeding any moment now. The Anna hummingbirds are busy with clusters of flowers from Winifred Gilman Cleveland Sage. The photos are superb. Although I made a mad dash for a map, I realize what bounty there must be in that region for other species.


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