Rufous Motmot – nesting at Bonilla Arriba

Motmot. Another great bird name! And there are 6 different species of them in Costa Rica, two of which I have never seen here, not even once. Today’s post has motmots galore and all of them are rated common or fairly common!

The one you are most likely to find in this country is now, since recently, officially called Lesson’s Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps). However, the latest edition of the standard Costa Rican bird guide (The Birds of Costa Rica, Garrigues & Dean, 2014) uses its former name of Blue-crowned Motmot. This bird is commonly found in the Turrialba area but here it is at the eastern limit of its Central Valley range.

Lesson’s Motmot, formerly Blue-crowned Motmot, at nearby Santa Rosa; photo by John Beer

This motmot supplements its usual diet of big invertebrates and small reptiles with fruit and is easily attracted to garden feeders. It is called ‘pajaro bobo’ (Silly Bird) here locally because it often allows a close approach.

This is not the case with Costa Rica’s largest motmot, the Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii); Momoto canelo mayor); Zimtbrutstmotomot; Motmot roux. On the Bonilla Arriba excursion this week we stumbled upon a pair of this strikingly handsome species at their nest site. Motmots nest in burrows but in this case the burrow entrance, in a bank on the roadside, was obscured by vegetation. According to Stiles & Skutch (A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, 1989) Rufous Motmots dig a long, winding burrow up to 16 feet in length, which means that eggs and chicks are not visible. Eggs were undescribed at that time. John’s first photo shows one of the parent birds with food in its bill shortly before it disappeared into the burrow:

Parent Rufous Motmot bringing food to the burrow; photo by John Beer

It’s curious that the second bird, shown below, seems to lack the black breast spot that all adult birds should have:

A wary Rufous Motmot waiting to enter the nest site at Bonilla Arriba; photo by John Beer

An additional consideration is the fact that this is a lowland Caribbean species that is not normally found above 1000 m. Three days later at least one of the birds was still feeding its hidden young.

As regards identification, only one other species looks at all like the Rufous Motmot: the Broad-billed Motmot (Electron platyrhynchum). This is pretty much a smaller version but with the rufous of the breast not extending to the underparts. It shares the same range within Costa Rica, i.e. the Caribbean lowlands, and I reported it recently twice from the Refugio Silvestre La Marta.

Finally, here’s the only other motmot that I’ve been lucky enough to see so far, the Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). It’s the official national bird of both El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Costa Rica you will find it only in dry northwestern Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula.

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