Guardabarranco: Nicaragua’s National Bird

The spectacular Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa), referred to locally as Guardabarranco (meaning ravine-guard), is the national bird of Nicaragua, featured in all its glorious color on the country’s 200-córdoba note. Visitors to Nicaragua can keep a lookout for this colorful little bird which is widely distributed around the country. As they favor open habitats, Turquoise-browed Motmots may be seen perching on overhead wires and fences as they scan the terrain below, looking for insects and small reptiles to eat.

As its name suggests, the Turquoise-browed Motmot has turquoise feathers above its eyes, as well as along the top of the black patch on its throat. Its body is mainly green-blue with a rufous belly and back. The tail feathers of this attractive little bird are particularly interesting as they have two long feathers which are bare along the shaft with racquet-shaped tips in turquoise and black. Although unusual features like this are usually reserved for males of the species to use in courtship displays, with the Guardabarranco both males and females have these eye-catching tail feathers. Some believe that the birds deliberately pluck their feathers into this shape, but research has revealed that the barbs along the shaft are not firmly attached and fall off with routine grooming. It has also been observed that both males and females perform what has been described as a ‘wag-display’ where they move their tails from side to side like the pendulum of a clock. This appears to have nothing to do with mating, but is observed when a predator is near and is thought to be a signal to the predator that it has been observed by the Motmot and should not waste its time pursuing what will inevitably be a futile attack.

In breeding season, Turquoise-browed Motmots lay between three and six eggs in their tunnel-shaped nests in riverbanks, quarries or similar habitats. Both parents share in the responsibility of raising the young. As they are found All the way from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico to Costa Rica, they are fortunately considered to be of ‘least concern’ from a conservation standpoint. So, enjoy the sight of Nicaragua’s national bird when traveling in this exotic and fascinating Central American country.

Photo Attribution: Leofleck (Wikimedia Commons)