Metaphorically described by Alexander Skutch (1962) as "a small, glittering hummingbird enlarged to the size of a Starling, with no loss of daintiness or brilliance," the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is a strikingly plumaged bird. The upperparts, a wide breast band, and two or four central rectrices are a metallic green. The throat may be white or buff, with a black chin in one subspecies. The rest of the body feathers are a rufous color, including the tail (hence the common name). The blackish bill is relatively long and pointed, held with an upward tilt.
The Rufous-tailed Jacamar is closely similar to several other species: Green-tailed Jacamar (Galbula galbula), White-chinned Jacamar (Galbula tombacea), Bluish-fronted Jacamar (Galbula cyanescens), and the Coppery-chested Jacamar (Galbula pastazae). Of these species, the Rufous-tailed narrowly overlaps geographically only with the Green-tailed Jacamar, which differs by its slightly shorter tail, the under surface of which is dusky green (not rufous).
The following description refers to nominate ruficauda, and is based on Wetmore (1968); see also Geographic Variation:
Adult male: Upperparts, including the surfaces, including the two central rectrices, the sides of head, and a broad band across the upper breast shining metallic golden green. Tail long and strongly graduated. Outer rectrices rufous-tawny (with golden green bases, concealed by the uppertail coverts). Remiges dull black, the secondaries edged with metallic green; inner webs of primaries and secondaries edged narrowly with buff at base. Lores, band beneath eye, and anterior rictal area black. Chin and throat white, chin sometimes with a light buff wash. Remaining underparts below the green breast band, including the innermost underwing coverts, rufous-tawny.
Adult female: Similar to adult male, but throat cinnamon-buff; and lower breast, abdomen, and sides dark cinnamon-buff (slightly paler than in male).
Juvenile: Similar to respective adult.
Bare part colors from Wetmore (1968):
Bill: Black. The tip of the maxilla of younger juveniles is buff or buff yellow.
Tarsus and toes: Tarsus dull honey yellow; toes grayish brown, with toe pads honey yellow. Claws black.
Total length: 22.0-24.5 cm (Wetmore 1968), 25 cm (Hilty 2003).
Linear measurements: Measurements (in mm) below are from Wetmore (1968), and indicate the range and mean. The G. r. ruficauda specimens included 11 males and 12 females from Antioquia and Bolivar, northwestern Colombia. The G. r. melanogenia specimens included 10 males and 10 females from Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro, Panama.
G. r. ruficauda
G. r. ruficauda
G. r. melanogenia
G. r. melanogenia
|Wing || 78.7-82.4 (80.0)|| 77.3-84.6 (80.5) || 80.1-83.5 (81.4)|| 79.1-83.4 (81.1) |
|Tail|| 99.1-114.2 (106.6)|| 94.0-104.6 (98.4) || 93.6-101.0 (99.3) || 93.1-98.5 (95.4) |
| Culmen from base|| 46.2-54.8 (50.0)|| 42.0-53.0 (47.7) || 49.6-56.8 (54.0)|| 47.5-53.6 (49.9) |
|Tarsus|| 12.0-12.8 (12.3)|| 12.0-12.8 (12.3) || 11.4-13.0 (12.5)|| 12.0-13.6 (12.7) |
Mass: Mean, males, 26.1 g (range 25-28 g, n=7, nominate ruficauda from Trinidad; ffrench 1986; mean, females, 26.9 g (24-33.5, n=7 including one egg-laying, nominate ruficauda from Trinidad; ffrench 1986).
Mean 22.3 g (range 20.0-24.0 g, ± 1.15, n=10, subspecies rufoviridis in south central Brazil; Marini et al. 1997).