Momotus momota

Motmots have one of the most unique tails for a bird.

Motmots have tail feathers that distinguish them from other birds. It remains a mystery how they ended up with this unique feather design. Adult motmots display two long 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.

Studies have shown that motmots move their tail back and forth in a wag-like display when they detect predators. The display is likely to communicate that the motmot is aware of the predator and is prepared to escape.

When the birds are excited, they often twitch their tails. While perched, they just stand there, moving their tails as if they were an old pendulum clock.

Motmots don’t build nests.

Motmots don’t build the traditionally known nests made of twigs on trees like other birds. Motmots dig burrows between two and eight feet long that are three inches in diameter. They are usually in natural or manmade banks, and they make a new burrow every season.

Motmots count on army ants to find their food.

Motmots have a commensal relationship with army ants. Commensalism is one type of symbiotic relationship where one species benefits and the other neither benefits nor is harmed. Parasitism is where one species benefits while the other is harmed in some way, although seldom killed. Mutualism is where both species benefit from the presence of the other species, even to the point of dependence. Motmots regularly follow army ants, gleaning insects, lizard, and frogs that are disturbed by the presence and progress of the ants.


Animal Facts

  • Lifespan A motmot's lifespan averages between 12 and 14 years.
  • Habitat Motmots are found in Mexico, Central America, and most of South America in rainforests, second-growth forests, forest edges, shady gardens, and shaded coffee farms.
  • Diet Motmots eat fruit, small reptiles, and insects such as crickets, mealworms, waxworms, and earthworms. At the Zoo, motmots eat crickets and mealworms, plus chopped fruit.
  • Size They are approximately 15 inches long.
  • Conservation Status Least Concern

Did You Know?

The word “motmot” is an American-Spanish word that imitates the call made by these birds.