A few months ago, I was staggering through a leftover fragment of Amazon rainforest, with a backpack full of camera traps, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a magnificent bird. As I turned my head to look at it, it disappeared and all I had to go on as I leafed through my bird book was the approximate size and that it was green or blue or something in that spectrum.
A few days later, I found a beautiful feather on the ground. It was blue-green and long. Towards the end, the vanes tapered leaving a bare shaft (Vanes? Shaft? What? Click here for enlightenment), only to start again for the end of the feather, making the whole thing look like an abstract pendulum for a clock. Bird geeks call this “racquet tail”. I had seen those before in my bird book and online but somehow I was still too thick to figure out what it was. I was kind of busy with my MSc dissertation.
Now I have time though and I am going through more footage from those Amazon fragments I visited (that’s what the camera traps were for). And bam! Amazonian motmot! Aka blue-crowned motmot. This Bird is friggin’ beautiful!
Here’s the footage we got. Its not great quality, but I’m excited nonetheless.
You may think motmot is a silly name for such a splendid bird.
Often when a bird species has a silly name, like motmot or cuckoo or whip-poor-will (that’s a nickname for a North American nightjar species), or go-away bird (aka grey lourie), that’s because that’s how the bird “introduced” itself to humans. They are calling out their names to us.
So this is how the motmot pronounces it’s name:
Listen for the deeper (booming?) calls. Ignore the chirping and whistling by other birds in this recording. It is hard to get a clear recording of a single species living in a rain forest. After all, biodiversity is loud and beautiful.
Where and How to Find the Amazonian Motmot
This species occurs throughout the greater amazon basin in South America. They nest in cavities with long tunnels in riverbanks. Or, in a human dominated world, something comparable.
You might see it perching in a tree just above your head, its long tail feathers ticking back and forth, indeed like the pendulum of a clock. I do not however, recommend walking though the amazon while looking up. You WILL fall. What you could do, is put out some fruit like banana, mango or papaya in your back yard. If you are lucky, you might attract a motmot. Beautiful as this bird is, it does not have table manners. So be prepared for a fruit spatter murder scene.
Motmots are omnivorous. Next to fruit, they eat almost any insect and even small vertebrate species, like mice. I found one paper describing how a motmot ate a long tongued bat (Glossophaginae sp.)alive!
How to protect the Amazonian motmot
This species is the most abundant species of all motmots. It is not endangered. If you like the Amazonian motmot, it, along with millions of other species and many indigenous people, would greatly appreciate if you were opposed to Brazil destroying the Amazon rain forest.
The top reasons for Amazon destruction are: Mineral oil and making space for large scale agriculture in the form of soy & corn (mostly for livestock feed), cattle pastures, sugar cane and cotton. Brazil is world’s largest exporter of beef and sugar cane, and second largest exporter of corn and soy (USA is first for both of those crops).
You could show your opposition by not buying beef (Brazilian or homegrown, as Brazil probably provided the feed in any case) or reducing your personal need for mineral oil. As a side effect, either (or both) decision reduce your carbon footprint.
BirdLife International (2018) Species factsheet: Momotus momota. Accessed at www.birdlife.org on 03/12/2018.
Chacón-Madrigal, E., Barrantes, G., (2004) Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota) Predation on a Long-tongued Bat (Glossophaginae) The Wilson Bulletin 116(1):108-110. 2004 DOI:10.1676/03-099
Orzechowski, S. C. and T. S. Schulenberg (2011). Amazonian Motmot (Momotus momota), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Audio recording derived from www.xeno-canto.org Go there to discover crazy bird noises or upload your own recordings of mystery songs, and the community will help identify the species.