Momotus momotablue-crowned motmot

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Geographic Range

Momotus momota is found in Central and South America countries. The blue-crowned motmot ranges from northeastern Mexico to northwestern Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Trinidad, and northern Argentina.

(Skutch 1964; Lindholm 1991; Orejuela 1977).

Habitat

In various parts of Central America, M. momota reside in many kinds of environments. The blue-crowned motmot can exist in the Pacific lowlands, with long and severe dry seasons, in deforested highland areas inhabiting coffee plantations, with low shade trees, patches of light secondary woods, thickets, hedgerows, shady gardens, and wooded ravines.

(Skutch, 1964)

Physical Description

Male M. momota are about 40.64 centimeters in length, while the females are slightly smaller. In plumage the sexes are indistinguishable. In both, the crown is black, bordered all around by a wide band of blue, which covers most of the forehead. The back and upper tail feathers vary in shade from olive-green to parrot-green. The wings are brighter green with bluish green primaries. Racket-shaped feathers are one of the characteristics that give tropical birds so exotic an aura. The two central feathers of the long tail, which are greenish near the end and bluer near the tip, extend far beyond the lateral rectrices, and near the end each has a short length of shaft from which the vanes have fallen, transforming it into a slender stalk that supports an isolated, blue, black-tipped, spatulate expanse of feather. The black bill is broad and heavy, with coarse serrations along the edge of the upper mandible in its middle half. The large eyes are dull red, and the short legs and feet are grey. In northeastern Mexico is a form (M. momota coeruliceps) with a crown that is totally blue. The nestlings hatch completely naked.

(Skutch 1964; Lindholm 1991)

  • Average mass
    102 g
    3.59 oz

Reproduction

Preparation for reproduction begins months in advance, during the rainy season. Blue-crowned motmots usually choose less obvious sites, so that their burrows are difficult to discover. Instead of beginning its tunnel in an exposed soil surface, M. momota prefers to start from the side of some pit or hollow in the ground, such as the den of a burrowing animal, or a hole dug by man. The future parents gain two advantages by digging their burrows so early; the first advantage is the motmots find the soil soft and easily worked. Secondly, the burrow already looks old when laying begins, and is less likely to arouse the interest of predators. Eggs in various South American regions are laid between March and early April. In other areas in Mexico, egg laying is estimated to be between early May and late June. Both sexes incubate the eggs. The female usually incubates at night. Incubation periods vary in different regions, but usually last from 13 days to about 3 weeks. The motmot parents brood their undeveloped young for the first three to four days after hatching; thereafter, the parents simply feed them during the day and leave them unattended in the burrow at night.

(Skutch 1964; Orejuela 1977)

Behavior

These motmots never flock, but live in pairs throughout the year. During the day the members of a pair often forage 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. The blue-crowned motmot's flights are sudden, swift, and direct, but rarely long continued; it passes between trees like a flash of blue and green.

(Skutch 1964)

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.

(Skutch 1964; Orejuela 1977)

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.

(Skutch 1964)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Momotus momota are largely insectivorous, but they vary their diet and will consume fruits. Beetles appear to be their principal food source, and among other kinds they capture many dung-beetles. Other insects taken include large cicadas, phasmids or stick-insects, large green othopterans, and larvae of various kinds. Spiders and small lizards are also occasionally captured. 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 the young chicks. Other times the food is dispatched with while still on the ground. Occasionally birds accompany a swarm of army ants to catch the insects, spiders, lizards and other creatures which the ants drive from concealment in the ground foliage and make readily available to the foraging birds.

(Skutch 1964)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The blue-crowned motmot is a featured bird on Neotropical and Central American nature trips. (Schwartz)

Conservation Status

Momotus momota is a wide-ranging bird that is one of eight species in the family Momotidae. However, M. momota is the only species of motmot able to reproduce in captivity.

(Lindholm 1991)

Contributors

Adrienne Dickerson (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Lindholm, III, J. October/November 1991. The Blue-crowned Motmot. The A.F.A Watchbird, XVIII Number 5: 48-52.

Orejuela, J. 1977. Comparative Biology of Turquoise-browed and Blue-crowned Motmots in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The Living Bird, 16: 193-207.

Schwartz, K. "Riviera Maya: It Takes Some Ingenuity,But It's Possible to Escape the Crowds" (On-line). Accessed March 23, 2001 at http://www.tri-cityherald.com/travel/stories/world/maya.html.

Skutch, A. 1964. Life History of the Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota). Ibis, 106: 321-332.