Bird O'clock

Unveiling the Wonders of the Broad-Billed Motmot: Its Behavior Habitat and Conservation

From impressive beaks to striking colors, birds are fascinating creatures that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One bird species that stands out for its unique appearance and interesting behavior is the Broad-billed Motmot, scientifically known as Electron platyrhynchum.

Found in the tropical forests of Central and South America, this bird’s plumage is a beautifully subtle combination of emerald green, blue, and brown, but its most distinctive feature is its long, racket-shaped tail feathers. If you’re interested in learning more about this stunning bird, including how to identify it in the field and distinguish it from other species, read on.


Field Identification

The Broad-billed Motmot is easy to identify in the field thanks to its broad, curved bill and long, racket-shaped tail feathers that make it one of the most distinctive birds in the region. Its overall coloration is an emerald green with a sky-blue rump, a rusty-brown lower belly and breast, white throat, and black eye markings.

Both males and females have similar markings and show no significant difference in size or appearance.

Similar Species

Although the Broad-billed Motmot is a unique bird, it can sometimes be confused with the Blue-crowned Motmot. The easiest way to distinguish them is by looking at their tails.

The Broad-billed Motmot’s racket-shaped tail feathers have blue-gray tips, while the Blue-crowned Motmot’s tail feathers are straight with bright blue tips. Additionally, the Broad-billed Motmot’s throat is white, while the Blue-crowned Motmot’s throat has speckles of blue.


Like many birds, the Broad-billed Motmot undergoes different plumages as it ages. Young Broad-billed Motmots have a greenish-yellow belly, a rufous cap, and a slightly shorter racket than adults.

The tails are brown and lack the blue-grey tips that the adult birds have. Females tend to have a slightly less-pronounced racket than males, but otherwise, their plumage is nearly identical.


Birds’ plumages evolve as they grow, with some species having multiple molts per year. The Broad-billed Motmot typically has one annual molt, which occurs during the dry season from February to May.

Adult birds undergo a complete replacement of feathers except for the central tail feathers. During molt, the main colors of the bird’s plumage become more muted, making the birds more difficult to spot and identify.


Broad-billed Motmots are fascinating birds that captivate observers with their striking beauty, unique appearance, and incredible behavior. With this article, you now know how to identify and distinguish the Broad-billed Motmot from similar species, thanks to its distinct bill, racket-shaped tail feathers, and subtle plumage colors.

Furthermore, the Broad-billed Motmot’s yearly molt highlights the changing nature of birds, and it’s a fascinating process to observe. So, the next time you’re in Central or South America, make sure to keep an eye out for the delightful Broad-billed Motmots.

Their beautiful colors, playful nature and racket-shaped tail feathers are sure to bring joy to any birders day.

Systematics History

The identification, classification, and relationship of organisms have been studied and debated for centuries. The Broad-billed Motmot, or Electron platyrhynchum, is no exception.

The taxonomy of this species has changed throughout history, and different researchers have proposed various theories about how it fits into the bird classification system.

Geographic Variation

The Broad-billed Motmot is a widespread species, occupying different regions in Central and South America. As expected, there are slight variations in their physical appearance and behavior from region to region.

This is known as geographic variation or clinal variation. One notable difference is that individuals from the northern part of its range tend to be a bit larger than individuals living in the southern part of the range.


Traditionally, bird species with geographical variation have been separated into subspecies, a subcategory of a species that can be identified by certain variations or characteristics. In the case of the Broad-billed Motmot, over ten subspecies have been identified, each occupying different portions of the species’ vast range, differing slightly in size, plumage, and behavior.

One example is the Coppery-tailed Motmot (Electron plumbeum), which was once considered a subspecies of the Broad-billed Motmot. The Coppery-tailed Motmot has a unique coppery-red central tail, as opposed to the blue and green of the Broad-billed Motmot, which has helped distinguish it as a separate species.

Related Species

The Broad-billed Motmot belongs to the family Momotidae, which includes nine other motmot species. All motmot species share the unique racket-shaped tail feathers that give them a distinctive look.

However, the Broad-billed Motmot has a broader, rounder bill than most other motmot species, reflecting its different feeding habits. It is, however, closely related to the Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota), which can be found in the same geographic region and has a similar appearance.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Along with changes in classification, the distribution of the Broad-billed Motmot has undergone changes over time. Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the distribution of this species has become increasingly localized and diminished in some areas.

For example, in Costa Rica, the Broad-billed Motmot is now mainly found in the southwest of the country, and in Panama, it is scarce in the eastern regions. The introduction of non-native species may also have a significant effect on the habitat and distribution of the Broad-billed Motmot.

For example, the introduction of the Africanized bee in Central and South America has caused a decline in the Broad-billed Motmot population as the bee has replaced many of the motmot’s traditional nest sites. Climate change has also affected the distribution and behavior of the Broad-billed Motmot.

The impact of climate change, in addition to habitat destruction, has been felt in many regions where this bird species was once common. In general, the historical changes to the distribution of the Broad-billed Motmot provide insight into the impact of anthropogenic activities, such as habitat loss and climate change on wildlife.

In addition, understanding the species’ natural history can help conservationists identify critical habitats to protect and monitor.


The study of biological classification and distribution is constantly evolving, and the Broad-billed Motmot is no exception. With its unique physical characteristics, geographical variation, and behavioral adaptations, this bird species has fascinated scientists for years.

By studying changes in the species’ classification, geographic variation, and historical distribution, we can learn a great deal about the impact of anthropogenic activities and climate change on wildlife. With this knowledge, scientists can identify solutions and ways to conserve unique and fascinating species like the Broad-billed Motmot.


The Broad-billed Motmot is one of the most beautiful birds in Central and South America and is renowned for its colorful plumage and magnificent ornate tail feathers. These birds can be found in a variety of forested habitats, from primary rainforests to secondary forests and even plantations near the forests.

Their range can extend from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, and thus, they can inhabit a variety of habitats depending on their geography.

They are more commonly seen in tropical lowland forests with dense underbrush but can also be found in areas with high canopy cover, including humid forests along rivers and valleys.

The Broad-billed Motmot often remains hidden during the day, preferring to stay near the forest floor or in dense foliage. In contrast, it is often more vocal in the hours near dusk, making loud hoots that can be heard from afar.

It also makes a characteristic “woop-woop” call, which can be used to locate it even in areas where visibility is low.

Movements and Migration

The Broad-billed Motmot is generally a migratory bird, with most populations moving from higher elevations to lower elevations during the non-breeding season. During their migration, individuals can make significant movements, traveling up to several hundred kilometers from their breeding sites.

The migration pattern and distances vary depending on the populations’ location, and some populations do not migrate at all, especially in areas with minimal seasonal changes.

Generally, the movements of the Broad-billed Motmot are influenced by a variety of triggers, including the availability of food resources, weather conditions, and breeding activities.

They do not travel long distances since their preferred habitat remains constrained to particular areas within the forest. There are many instances where these birds use signals like vocalizations or other visual cues to guide their movements and find potential mates.

The Broad-billed Motmot is a solitary bird that often keeps to its territory throughout its lifespan. During the breeding season, individuals tend to defend their breeding territories vigorously against conspecific rivals, other motmot species, and potential predators.


Breeding is usually confined to specific areas within forests, where birds partner up to build nests, establish territories, and raise offspring. During breeding season, males begin a courtship display to attract females into their defended territories.

They also create stress patterns on their tail feathers, which help to attract the female’s attention. Once paired up, both members of the pair will usually take responsibility for the maintenance of a single nest, which is often located in the side of a bank or a large tree.

Once hatched, the young remain secluded in the nesting chamber for several weeks until they are strong enough to venture outside. Both parents feed the young and defend them against predators.

The young usually do not leave the breeding territory until the following year.


The Broad-billed Motmot is listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to its extensive range and large population size. However, habitat destruction, both from logging and from agricultural land-use change, remains a significant problem for these birds.

Thus, there is the need to consider forest conservation, sustainable management practices, and continued monitoring of populations and their movements.


The Broad-billed Motmot is a fascinating bird that can be found in a variety of habitats across Central and South America. From its unique physical appearance to its adaptive behavior, the bird has fascinated researchers for years.

Understanding the movements, migration, and habitat requirements of this species is vital for establishing management and conservation measures to minimize negative impacts. With continued efforts directed towards conservation, the future of this bird species, its habitat, and the ecosystem in which it resides can be ensured.

Diet and Foraging


The Broad-billed Motmot is mostly a sit-and-wait predator, waiting on a small, elevated perch within a tree or shrub. Sitting still for long periods allows this bird to conserve energy as it waits for prey to come within striking distance.

When it spots potential prey, it will swoop down, capture it in its beak, and return to its perch to eat it.


Broad-billed Motmots feed on small vertebrates and invertebrates such as lizards, insects, and smaller birds. They also consume snails, millipedes, caterpillars and spiders which form an important part of their diet.

These birds will occasionally eat fruit, but it is not a regular part of their diet. They will also swallow small prey whole and may regurgitate indigestible parts such as bones, feathers, or insect exoskeletons later on.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Broad-billed Motmots are endothermic organisms, meaning they produce their own body heat and retain a constant body temperature. A constant body temperature is important for their survival, especially since they live in tropical forests.

This means that they must maintain body temperature despite fluctuations of ambient temperature in their environment. One way they stay cool is through thermoregulation, by exposing themselves to cool surroundings or by using their beaks as a heat sink to dissipate heat by increasing blood flow to their bills.

They have high metabolic rates due to their constant activity and their need for maintaining a warm body temperature. This is reflected in their diet and feeding behavior, in which they need to consume significant amounts of prey to fuel their high metabolism.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Bird calls are important for communication in the wild, and the Broad-billed Motmot is no exception. They are known for their loud calls, which can be heard over long distances.

These calls are used to communicate between pairs, establish territories, or warn of approaching predators. The most common vocalization of the Broad-billed Motmot is a woo-woo call, which it uses to signal its presence, locate its mate during the breeding season, and to communicate with other members of its family.

It can be heard throughout the day and is echoed by other motmots in the area. In addition to its “woo-woo” call, the Broad-billed Motmot also has a series of guttural, grumbling sounds and a high-pitched, whiny call, typically heard during aggressive encounters with other motmots or predators.

These vocalizations are used as warnings, and to defend their territory.


The Broad-billed Motmot is an incredible bird species with unique physical features, fascinating behavior, and intricate vocalizations. The bird is well-adapted to its environment and is an endothermic organism with a high metabolism needed for its hunting and foraging activities.

Moreover, the Broad-billed Motmot’s unique vocalizations are essential for communication, breeding and hunting activities. With continued research, conservation efforts, and better understanding of their behaviors and habitat requirements, this remarkable bird species is likely to remain present and thriving in the vast forests of Central and South America.



The Broad-billed Motmot is not known for its graceful flight as its wings are relatively short and round. Instead, it spends most of its day sitting on a perch waiting for prey.

However, when it does take flight, it flies in a distinctive undulating pattern, with its tail feathers trailing behind in a unique, mesmerizing manner.

In addition to flying, the Broad-billed Motmot can also walk along branches and narrow sticks by shuffling its feet, giving it stability when perching.

This bird is capable of hopping, but it is usually reserved for only short distances.

Self Maintenance

The Broad-billed Motmot is a relatively solitary bird, and it exhibits a significant amount of self-grooming behavior. This grooming behavior involves the bird preening its feathers with its beak, removing any dirt or parasites that may have accumulated to keep its feathers clean and in good condition.

Agonistic Behavior

Although generally solitary, The Broad-billed Motmot will defend its territory against predators and rivals. When threatened or when engaging in territorial disputes, the bird will puff up its feathers and spread its wings and tail, making itself look larger and more intimidating.

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, male Broad-billed Motmots perform display flights to attract females into their territory. The flashy display flights involve the male spiraling and diving while displaying their distinctive tail feathers, which are typically extended and waved conspicuously during this ritual.

The breeding season for the Broad-billed Motmot can occur from May to September, varying slightly depending upon climatic conditions.


Breeding in the Broad-billed Motmot is an important part of their life cycle, and it occurs once a year. Once paired, individuals will build a burrow or nest at the end of a chamber, excavated in the soil or on the base of a bank while using their feet to scrape and move dirt away.

In rare cases where a suitable burrow is not available, the Broad-billed Motmot will alter a cavity in a termite nest or rotting log, forming an improvised nest. Both individuals work together to excavate the burrow and construct the nest.

After the nest is complete, the female will lay anywhere from 2-5 eggs. The pair will then take turns incubating the eggs, with the female primarily performing most of the incubation, occasionally leaving the nest to feed.

After approximately two weeks, the eggs hatch. The chicks are altricial, meaning they require nourishment and protection from both parents for at least the first two weeks of their lives.

The chicks will stay inside the burrow for around four weeks before fledging.

Demography and Populations

The Broad-billed Motmot is a relatively common species and generally has a stable population trend. However, certain populations can be affected by habitat destruction, fragmentation, and climate change.

With deforestation being a significant challenge to the species, active efforts for forest conservation and sustainable use of resources in their habitat can help to prevent significant population declines. In some regions, where successful conservation efforts have been implemented, the population of Broad-billed Motmots has remained relatively stable.

In other regions, monitoring and captive breeding programs have been initiated to boost populations and improve the species’ breeding success. These programs supplement wild populations and help to ensure the genetic diversity of the species.


The Broad-billed Motmot is an intriguing bird species that occupies different regions in Central and South America. Their unique physical appearance and behavior are fascinating, and their burrowing and nest behavior are some of the most remarkable aspects of their lives.

While the species is generally stable, habitat destruction, fragmentation, and climate change remain significant challenges. Active conservation programs that aim to counter these threats can help to maintain populations and ensure the Broad-billed

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