If there is a family of birds that is representative of Central America, it is the motmots. This vibrant, beautiful bird originated here in Central America and migrated south.
How to Spot a Motmot in Costa Rica
There are 9 different species of Motmots in Central and South America, and 6 are represented in Costa Rica. The two most common in Costa Rica are the turquoise-browed and the blue-crowned. The blue-crowned are the easiest to see. The rufous motmot is very shy and hard to spot, and it spends its time in the Caribbean rainforest. Two of the most difficult birds to see, and two of the most wanted for birdwatchers, are the tiny tody motmot and the elusive keel-billed motmot.
The most interesting feature of the motmots is their racket-shaped tail. It remains a mystery how they ended up with this unique feather design. However, adult motmots display two long and slim tail feathers, so thin they look like long skinny bones. At the end of each feather is a large, round colorful circle of feathers.
The motmots like to nest in holes they dig on the sides of riverbanks, and roadsides, so keep your eyes open to spot them!
Cultural Importance of the Motmot
Images of the motmot appear throughout archeological artifacts from Central America. Legend says the Mayans named the ancient city of Copan, in Honduras, after the motmot. The Bri Bri, an indigenous group of Costa Rica, also have one of the nicest fables about how motmots came to have racket-shaped tails.
The story tells that when the god Sibö (the King Vulture) was creating the world, he asked for help from all the birds to finish the job. The lazy motmot dug a hole to hide and avoid the work ahead, unknowingly leaving his long tail feathers sticking out of the dirt. When the rest of the birds, working hard, saw the long lush tail feathers sticking out, they became very angry at the lazy motmot. Each bird, in turn, plucked one feather from the tail of the motmot, leaving him with just the round paddles at the end of his tail.
This is just one of the many stories around the motmot. Visit Costa Rica and spot this beautiful bird and more by yourself!