Rufous Motmot Baryphthengus martii

  • Order: Coraciiformes
  • Family: Momotidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Terry L. Master



Rufous Motmots often reveal themselves when quickly sallying forth on fluttering wings  to capture a flying insect. Otherwise, they are quiet and unobtrusive birds that perch quietly, often on horizontal branches or thick vines at the mid to sub-canopy level of the forest, their only movement a sideways swishing of the tail in pendulum fashion if disturbed or threatened (Slud 1964, Skutch 1983, Snow 2001). They abruptly reverse position often, raising the tail so it does not strike the branch they are perched on when turning around (Snow 2001). They are most active at dawn and dusk when calls among individuals are frequently heard (Forshaw and Cooper 1987, Snow 2001).

A variety of behaviors are used to capture the many types of food items consumed.  Typically, insects are snatched from the air and fruits are plucked while hovering in the mid-levels of the forest, after which the birds return to their original perch (Skutch 1983, Snow 2001). Skutch (1983) watched an individual gathering orange fruits from a palm while perched and observed birds positioned in the forest understory picking prey items disturbed by army ants from leaves, tree trunks and even the ground occasionally. Insect prey often is beaten on a branch or other substrate before being eating (Skutch 1983, Snow 2001).

Rufous Motmots are usually seen singly or in pairs but Skutch (1983) observed a remarkable gathering of 13 individuals in a fringe of forest at La Selva, Costa Rica, which were not foraging but were agitated, moving frequently and calling constantly. One individual held a leaf fragment in its beak suggestive of courtship behavior more typically observed in "Blue-crowned Motmots" (Momotus momota complex).

Tail movements are used to indicate disturbance or perceived threats. Characteristically, the tail is swung from side to side like a pendulum (Skutch 1983, Snow 2001), sometimes being held out to the side before swinging resumes (Snow 2001). Slud (1964) observed individuals perched obliquely, rather than vertically, with the tail held straight, raised above horizontal and subsequently raised and lowered or swished side-to-side. Flights are usually of short duration, rapid and direct on fluttering wings. They do not cross large bodies of water and do not engage in any long distance movements (Snow 2001).


This species is territorial although details, such as territory size, are lacking. Pairs call back and forth, sometimes at different pitches, as do the owners of separate territories, especially at dawn and dusk. On Barro Colorado Island, Panama, three to six individuals called back and forth to settle territorial disputes (Forshaw and Cooper 1987).

Sexual Behavior

Little information available. Generalized evidence suggests that all motmot species engage in duetting (Snow 2001) which is typically used in territorial defense and maintaining pair bonds. Observations of an individual in a group of 13 birds holding a leaf in its bill (Skutch 1983) and of an adult provisioning another adult with a Green and Black Poison Dart Frog Dendrobates auratus (Master 1998, 1999) both suggest that courtship feeding occurs in the Rufous Motmot as it does in the Blue-crowned Motmot Momotus coeruliceps (Skutch 1983).

Social and interspecific behavior

Rufous Motmots most often are observed singly or in pairs (Forshaw and Cooper 1987, Snow 2001). As many as three to six individuals have been heard calling at dawn and dusk from separate territories on Barro Colorado Island, Panama (Forshaw and Cooper 1987). Situations do occur where larger numbers of individuals congregate. Skutch (1983) observed a group of 13 agitated and very active individuals at La Selva, Costa Rica, that he likened to similar courtship groups observed more commonly in Blue-crowned Motmots (Momotus coeruliceps). Gatherings of individuals also occur in the presence of army ants (Willis 1981).


No data available.

Recommended Citation

Master, T. L. (2011). Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.