Bio Facts: Motmot, Blue-crowned
Eastern Mexico, Central America, northern and central South America, Trinidad and Tobago
Forests and woodlands
Length: 14.9” – 18.9” (38-48 cm); weight: about 5.11 oz (145 g). The tail is very long with a bare-shafted racket tip. The upperparts are green, shading to blue on the lower tail, and the underparts are green or rufous depending on subspecies. In all except the entirely blue-crowned subspecies M. m. coeruliceps, the central crown is black and surrounded by a blue band. There is a black eye mask, and the nape of M. m. momota is chestnut. The call is a low owl-like ooo-doot, although there are variations depending on the subspecies involved. Head is large with down curved, short, broad beak, which is serrated along the upper edge. The tarsi (feet) are unique in that they are particularly short with a middle toe almost completely fused to the inner toe and only one rear toe. Though female blue-crowned motmots are slightly smaller than males, the plumage of the two sexes is identical.
In captivity, at least 13 years
In the wild they eat insects, small lizards and fruits; in the Zoo they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available bird of prey diet, dry diet, baby mice, mealworms, fruit mix, crickets and supplements.
IUCN – Least Concern
The species occurs in a range of habitat types from sea level to 10,170 ft (3100 m), including lowland and montane humid forest and temperate woodland, semi-arid open woodland, plantations and clearings with trees; in Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago) it is found frequently in gardens and even sandy beaches and open pastures with large trees.
Motmots live by themselves or in pairs, never in flocks. Each pair keeps to a particular feeding territory. These birds often sit still (sit-and-wait predators), and in their dense forest habitat can be difficult to see, despite their size. When it flies, the motmot flies in short, swift darting moves, leaving only a flash of blue and green as it passes between trees.
During the day the pair often forages separately and it is not always obvious that they are mated. Motmots are active in the twilight, and go to rest later than most birds. Momotus momota do not sleep in their burrows, instead evidence points to the conclusion that they sleep amid the foliage.
There are many different mating calls of M. momota, these usually occur during the breeding season. Blue-crowned motmots have also been observed carrying inedible objects, in an attempt to court or pair, or sometimes attempting to win a mate by disrupting an established pair.
Motmots dig their nests in the shape of tunnels 5 - 14 feet long and four inches in diameter with a nesting chamber at the end, which is 10 by 14 inches in length. Both males and females begin excavating between August and October, which is the rainy season when the soil is soft. Then they leave the nest, returning the following March or April for breeding season. Both males and females share parental responsibility. Motmots choose to live near water, for drinking and bathing.
Their chicks—usually three to five per clutch—hatch blind and completely naked. Each parent takes turns caring for the brood, bringing back insects and fruits to the nest until the young are ready to leave about a month later. Though the blue-crowned motmot raises its young in burrows for about a month, adult M. momota have never been observed removing waste products or excreta from the burrow.
The blue-crowned motmot has two ways of dealing with prey before it is consumed. One practice is taking the prey and beating it against the bird’s own perch until it becomes inactive, often until it is badly disfigured, before it is swallowed or carried to chicks. Other times the food is dispatched while still on the ground. Occasionally birds accompany a swarm of army ants to catch the insects, spiders, lizards and other creatures that the ants drive from concealment under foliage and make readily available to foraging birds.
Motmots swing their tails like the pendulum on a clock, generally in the presence of predators. Despite their size, motmots are often difficult to see until they start wagging their tails. Drawing the attention of a predator seems counter-intuitive, but this behavior actually serves to deter predators. The motmot is signaling, “Hey, I see you, and you can’t surprise me.” Ambush predators tend to abandon the hunt when they know they’ve been detected.
As presently defined, it is likely that the Blue-crowned Motmot includes several species level taxa. Especially the Andean Highland Motmot, Momotus aequatorialis (Gould, 1858), is frequently considered a separate species, but this treatment is no longer adopted here, following SACC (2005), which noted that the published evidence for treating it as a separate species is weak, but also hoped their decision would stimulate further research on the taxonomy of the M. momota complex. In addition to the Highland Motmot, several major groups have been identified: Blue-diademed Motmot (momota group found in central and northern South America), Tawny-bellied Motmot (subrufescens group found in north-western South America and eastern Panama), Lesson’s Motmot (lessonii group found in most of Central America and eastern Mexico) and the ‘true’ Blue-crowned Motmot (coeruliceps found in north-eastern Mexico). Additionally, the taxon from Trinidad and Tobago, misleadingly named bahamensis (there are no motmots in the Bahamas), is distinctive, and possibly worthy of species recognition.
The word “motmot” is an American-Spanish word coined as an imitation of the call that the birds make.
Because they can live in many different forest types, ranging from rainforests to shaded coffee farms, the blue-crowned motmot is not on the endangered list. However, as shaded coffee farms and forests are destroyed, the survival of this beautiful bird is threatened.
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Blue-crowned motmots were found on the Jacksonville Zoo inventory in 1966, and from 1985-1990. We once again acquired this species in 2003.