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Momotus coeruliceps

Blue-crowned Motmot

  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Momotidae
  • Polytypic 4 Subspecies

Authors: Orzechowski, Sophia Catherine, and Thomas S. Schulenberg



The Blue-crowned Motmot is a large, long-tailed bird; the tail also has a distinctive "racquet" tip. The plumage generally is green. One of the Blue-crowned Motmot's most distinctive features is a broad, black line (or "mask") that extends from the base of bill across the sides of the head, terminating in elongated, lanceolate feathers on the auriculars. There also is a cap of dark blue feathers stretching from the forecrown along the sides of the crown to the nape, In most subspecies, this blue band surrounds a small patch of black on central portion of the crown, but in the northernmost subspecies the center of the crown is blue as well.

Similar Species

The Blue-crowned Motmot is the only species of motmot that occurs in eastern Mexico north of southern Veracruz, and so readily is identifiable in this region. From southern Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula, and the Pacific slope of Chiapas) south to Costa Rica, the distribution of the Blue-crowned Motmot overlaps with that of the similar Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). The Turquoise-browed Motmot is smaller than Blue-crowned, but has longer bare shafts on ohe central rectrices. Additionally, the Turquoise-browed Motmot has blue remiges that contrast with the wing coverts and the body plumage; the nape and the center of the crown are green;  the center of the back is rufous, not green; and has a black and turquoise stripe down the center of the throat (lacking on Blue-crowned Motmot).


Members of the "Blue-crowned Motmot" complex (see Systematics) can be divided into two vocal groups, those that give songs consist of a single note, and those whose song contains two notes. The Blue-crowned Motmot is a member of the double-noted group. The song is transcribed as "a soft, resonant hoop-hoop or coot-coot, heard most often at dawn" (Stiles and Skutch 1989), or as "a distinctive, low double-hoot, oot-oot or hoop-hoop, often heard before dawn, suggesting an owl" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Other vocalizations include "a low, hollow whoo-whoo hoot, especially near burrow; in aggressive interactions a hoarse, dry coughing bark, sometimes in a series like the chatter of a large squirrel; a long series of hoots that accelerates into a gobble when alarmed" (Stiles and Skutch 1989); and "a hard, hollow clucking, kluk-kluk-kluk ... or klok klok ... in alarm, and a slightly bouncing-ball-like wuuh wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh, suggesting Spectacled Owl [Pulsatrix perspicillata]" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is of lessonii, and is based on Ridgway (1914); for characters of other subspecies, see Geographic Variation.

Adult: Sexes similar. Lores, orbital region and auriculars, extreme anterior portion of forecrown, upper margin of malars, and center of crown black. Forehead and sides of bright turquoise blue; this blue band ("diadem") continues to the rear crown, becoming more violet, and bordered posteriorly by black. The black of the auriculars (part of the "mask") narrowly is margined above with bright turquoise. Nape, back, scapulars, and rump olive-green. Wings greener, becoming greenish blue on the primaries and primary coverts. Upper surface of tail green or bluish green, shading more bluish distally; racquets blue, broadly tipped with black. Chin, throat, and lower portion of malars dull light bluish green. Breast variably olivaceous-tawny to light olive-green; belly lighter and greener. A tuft of narrow black feathers in center of breast, these feathers narrowly margined with light greenish blue.

Immature: "Similar to adults, but colors much duller, the blue of forehead replaced by grayish brown or dusky (sometimes tinged with verdigris green), black crown-patch larger, under parts of body more rufescent, black tuft in center of foreneck wanting, middle rectrices without terminal spatules, and texture of plumage much looser."

Bare Parts

Iris: dull red

Bill: black (base of gonys and lower edge of rami dull brownish white)

Tarsi and toes: tarsi fuscous, toes fuscous-black

Data from Wetmore (1968)


Total length: 38-43 cm (Howell and Webb 1995), 39 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989)


Linear measurements of Momotus coeruliceps lessonii (Stiles 2009)
    wing length (chord)     tail length  total culmen
  male  mean       136.79 ± 4.07      229.77 ± 8.23   44.50 ± 2.47
   range (n)  130.5-142.3 (24)  215.0-245.0 (21)  40.6-50.5 (25)
 female   mean      134.23 ± 3.05     224.95 ± 8.58   43.33 ± 2.32
   range (n)   128.4-140.0 (20)  206.0-233.5 (18)  39.6-46.4 (20)


Mass: mean 115.5 g ± 11.4 (range 90-135 g, n=32; Stiles 2009)


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Geographic Variation

Four subspecies recognized:

coeruliceps (Gould 1836); type locality Tamaulipas, Mexico

Occurs in northeastern Mexico, from Nuevo León and Tamaulipas south to northern Veracruz

Differs from other subspecies by having the center of the crown blue (Ridgway 1914, Chapman 1923); thus, this is only truly blue-crowned member of the "Blue-crowned Motmot" complex (!).


goldmani Nelson 1900; type locality Motzorongo, Veracruz, Mexico

Occurs from southeastern Mexico (north to southern Veracruz) south to northern Guatemala

 Similar to lessonii, but underparts greener; also differs "in the absence of cobalt-blue in the posterior blue margin to the black pileum" (Chapman 1923).


exiguus Ridgway 1912; type locality Temax, Yucatán, Mexico

Occurs in southeastern Mexico in Campeche and Yucatán

Greener than lessonii and goldmani; differs from goldmani "in having the blue nuchal band margined posteriorly with smalt-blue" (Chapman 1923).


lessonii Lesson 1842; type locality Realejo, Nicaragua

Occurs from southwestern Mexico (Chiapas) south to western Panama (Chiriquí and the Azuero Peninsula)

See Detailed Description.


Momotus coeruliceps (monotypic) and Momotus lessonii (including goldmani and exiguus) both were classified as separate species by most early authorities (e.g. Cory 1918, Chapman 1923), until Peters (1945) included them within a broadly defined, polytypic Momotus momota; as recognized by Peters, Momotus momota (Amazonian Motmot) also included the taxa currently assigned to Momotus coeruliceps, Momotus subrufescens (Whooping Motmot), Momotus bahamensis (Trinidad Motmot), and Momotus aequatorialis (Andean Motmot). The Peters concept of a broadly defined species, with a geographic range extending from Mexico south to southern Brazil, was widely followed for many years.

A very recent and thorough study was conducted by Stiles (2009). The criteria for redefining the species of Momotus were generated by detailed analyses of external measurements, plumage patterns and primary 'hooting' call. Stiles focused on 10 taxa in regions within Nicaragua, northern Peru, Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana. The species limits were drawn on the basis of two general criteria: "diagnosability, and the probability that differences observed would assure maintenance of reproductive isolation should currently allopatric groups enter into contact" (Stiles 2009). Based upon the results of his analyses, Stiles concluded that the genus Momotus can be broken into five species-level taxa: M. coeruleiceps, M. aequatorialis, M. bahamensis, M. subrufescens and M. momota. Collectively, these five species constitute the "Blue-crowned Motmot" complex. Stiles (2009) did not investigate, however, the relationships between coeruliceps and the lessonii group.

Recommended Citation

Orzechowski, Sophia Catherine, and Thomas S. Schulenberg. 2011. Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: