Find Feathered Friends

By John Keeling

Motmots Among Us


Rufous-Crowned-MOTMOTOne of the most colorful residents of the Lakeshore is a brightly-colored tropical bird called the Russet-Crowned Motmot. It is easily recognized by its greenish body, reddish-brown cap, black line through the eye, blue patch below the eye, and long tail.

Janet Zimmerman reported in the early seventies that these birds nested regularly in Chula Vista. They still nest there, and currently two young birds can be seen at the edge of the golf course since hatching in June. Occasionally, Los Audubonistas del Lago arranges a ‘Bird Viewing’ to observe these birds. This year I have sighted motmots in the ravine above Riberas del Pilar, above El Tepalo waterfall, and in upper Ajijic.

There are a number of different motmot species which inhabit ranges from northern Argentina to central Mexico. They are typically found in the trees of humid forests, but our local species, which is found only in Mexico and Guatemala, is adapted to drier forest and scrub such as we have around here.

These birds are easily missed as they will take up a shaded perch on the lower branch of a tree and sit there without moving for long periods of time. A birder scanning the trees and bushes will quickly see such a sitting bird because of its color and shape. Often it will not fly away immediately upon being discovered, but will calmly endure the study of its bold colors through the binoculars.

The Motmot builds its nest in a deep burrow constructed in a bank a few feet above the ground. The eggs need 20 days to hatch, and another 30 days are required before the young birds can fly. They eat such things as large insects, small lizards and tree frogs.

The tail of the Russet-crowned motmot has a unique tennis-racket shape. It is interesting that the young birds have ordinary straight tail feathers, but the material of the feather is weaker half way down its length so that when the bird is active or is preening itself these bits easily fall off, leaving a circular shape at the end of the tail. This is in contrast to the widely cited but erroneous reports from a famous explorer that the birds purposely pull out these portions of the tail in order to produce the unique paddle shape.

(Ed. Note: Los Audubonistas del Lago is a loose-knit group of people interested in birds. To receive notices of events please leave your e-mail address at

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