3rd Bird of Christmas: Turquoise-browed Motmot

28 Dec

If you are a new reader to this blog series, I’m sharing a bird species that I’ve seen in Costa Rica for each of the 12 days of Christmas (the days starting December 26 and ending Jan. 6, Epiphany). Please see the first day’s entry for more background.

Just after I learned the trogon’s call, I quickly became enamored of the nasal croak of the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Although it is hard to play favorites with birds, this one ranks right up there and will always remain very close to my heart, partly because of its fabulous color scheme, and partly because it reminds me not to be so concerned with time. The motmot wags its tail in a pendulous motion, both to warn predators they’ve been seen and, in the male, as a sexual display. Despite this pendulum effect and its metaphorical connection to clocks, whenever I am in the motmot’s presence, I completely forget myself and am fully in the moment.

Known in Costa Rica as Momoto Cejiceleste, Pajaro Reloj (clock bird) or colloquially, the Bobo, Eumomota superciliosa is actually the national bird of both Nicaragua and El Salvador, which brings up a fact that has always dismayed me. Not to slight any avian species in the least, but of all the exotic and amazing birds that are endemic or indigenous to Costa Rica, it’s always struck me as anticlimactic that the Costa Rican national bird is…. the Clay-colored Robin!

On solitary hikes in Costa Rica, I liked nothing more than to listen for the dry monotone “wonk” of the motmot, locate it and attempt to entice it into a photo shoot. Finding it isn’t usually too much of a challenge, as it has a habit of perching on a branch in the open, or on a wire or fence, and basically showing off. Once when I took two visitors, Priscilla and Brian from New York City, for a hike in Curú Wildlife Refuge, I was able not only to find it for them, but when I made reference to its famous pendulum-like tail, the subject actually changed positions on its perch to face away from us and began to switch its tail as if on cue. The photo shown above this paragraph was taken at that moment by Brian Hoffman. Most of the photos in this entry I took early on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2010, on a high ridge near the village of Panica, where I was privileged to spend the weekend alone at the home of dear friends Juan Carlos and Yorleny.

Although it is often said that motmots pluck the barbs off their tail to create the racketed shape, this is not true; the barbs are weakly attached and fall off due to abrasion with substrates and with routine preening. Folklore has it that other birds plucked the feathers off of the motmot’s tail because they were jealous of its beauty. Those who follow The Colbert Report may recall that on February 1, 2007, the Turquoise-browed Motmot was named by Stephen Colbert as the fifth most poetic bird. I couldn’t agree more.

Listen to the motmot’s call.

More great pictures of the motmot.

Photos for this entry are by Frances Figart, except where noted.

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One Response to “3rd Bird of Christmas: Turquoise-browed Motmot”

  1. Amy December 29, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    I am enjoying starting my day learning something new. That it is lovely, tropical birds makes it doubly pleasant as it reminds me that winter isn’t the ONLY season!

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