Rufous-tailed Jacamars are active and alert, watching for prey from a horizontal perch that is usually lower in the forest but still a few meters above the ground. The perch often allows a vantage over an opening, perhaps from a path or narrow stream, so that there is room to maneuver in the air when sallying for flying prey. Insects are caught in the long, pointed bill and brought back to the perch. Large prey are beaten against the perch and may have the wings removed before being consumed (Skutch 1962).
Male jacamars have been observed repeating the same routes and using the same perches day to day (Pinheiro et al 2003). Since the perches are relatively close to one another, this species may have a small, restricted home range (Pinheiro et al 2003).