- Scientific Name: Momotus momota
- Status in the Wild: Common
- Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests
- Diet: Carnivore
There are six species of motmots living in Costa Rica: the blue-crowned motmot, broad-billed motmot, keel-billed motmot, rufous motmot, tody motmot, and turquoise-browed motmot. With the exception of the tody motmot (the world’s smallest), these colorful birds have long, thin tails that end with two round feathers known as racquet-tipped tails. It is common for motmots to swing their tail plumage in a pendulum motion, earning them the nickname “clock birds.”read more close
The blue-crowned motmot (Momotus momota) is Costa Rica’s most common. Both males and females feature the same colorful plumage pattern: a black crown bordered by turquoise blue feathers, green back, yellow-green chest spotted by two black markings, bright green wings with blue primary feathers, and a green tail that fades into bright blue round feathers. They have narrow beaks with saw-like edges that aid them in hunting. Adult males measure up to 16 inches; females are slightly smaller. Blue-crowned motmots weigh between 4 and 5.5 ounces.
Motmot calls are generally monosyllabic and repetitive – “motmot” is the onomatopoeia (mimicking sound) of some species’ call. The blue-crowned motmot makes several low, husky sounds that often sound like “coot-coot” or “hoop-hoop”; birders often locate the species by following its call. Most motmots sing or call only in pairs or alone.
Motmots are found perched in trees close to the forest floor, usually three to 13 feet off the ground. They hunt in the same location, holding their bodies still while they scan for prey. When a tasty morsel is identified, motmots quickly fly out and seize the animal, beating it on a tree branch before swallowing it whole. The blue-crowned motmot diet consists of large invertebrates (especially beetles), frogs, small reptiles and the occasional bat. They often follow army ant trails to pick off insects dislodged by the ants’ march. Motmots supplement their diet with ripe fruits and seeds.
Motmots dig nesting burrows, usually into earthen banks. Interestingly, they do not sleep in their burrows, which are used for nesting, but rather in the trees. The blue-crowned motmot often takes over other animal burrows, digging deeper into the dirt to create a long tunnel that ends in a nesting cave. Motmots are very secretive about their nesting spots, and strive to make them almost impossible to find, even to the trained eye. Alexander Skutch, a famous naturalist and ornithologist, found only 10 blue-crowned motmot nests in over 30 years of research and birding.
Blue-crowned motmots live in all of Central America, continuing south into Peru and northern Argentina. In Costa Rica, the species is distributed throughout the Central Valley and along the Pacific Coast. They are often spotted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Manuel Antonio National Park, Carara National Park, Corcovado National Park and Santa Rosa National Park. It is the only motmot to live in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region. They are found at elevations ranging from sea level to 6,500 feet.
Due to their perching and hunting habits, blue-crowned motmots prefer forest edges, open forest and shady gardens with plenty of trees and foliage.
Blue-crowned motmots usually breed during Costa Rica’s dry season (December-May). Pairs dig their nests many months in advance of breeding. Ornithologists surmise that this is not only because the soil is more malleable during the rainy season, but also to allow sufficient time for the weather to eliminate all signs of a new nest. This way, when the eggs are laid, the nest entrance looks old and will not attract unwanted attention from predators.
Blue-crowned motmots remain in pairs throughout the year, but they are not lifelong monogamous partners – occasionally a male interloper is able to lure a female away from her mate. During the mating dance, males often hold colorful, inedible objects, such as long grasses, in their beaks to attract females. They typically lay three or four eggs, which are placed in a large chamber at the end of their tunnel nest. The eggs incubate over a period of three weeks, during which time both parents take turns caring for the eggs – this requires long stretches of sitting on the eggs, sometimes for up to six hours at a time.
When the hatchlings emerge, the baby birds are blind and naked. Both parents continue to care for them, alternately taking food back to the nest. By four weeks, the chicks have matured, are able to fly on their own and leave the nest. Blue-crowned motmots begin breeding at about one year old, and will breed only once per year. Their lifespan is unknown.
Status in the Wild:
The blue-crowned motmot is not considered endangered. In fact, it is a hardy breeder and the only motmot species proven able to reproduce while in captivity. They are sensitive to deforestation, but due to their wide distribution, have survived well.