Naturalist Newsletter of December 24, 2007
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside
Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W
Last Wednesday near my dwelling I walked around a bend and right there on the trail before me pecking at something on the ground was a mostly green bird I hadn't seen before. At first I thought it was a Green Jay but this bird had a blue throat, not black, and its crown was green, also not black, like the Green Jay's. Its beak was slender and curved like a cuckoo's, but cuckoo's aren't green. Its face suggested a motmot's, but motmots bear longer tails with barbs missing from the lower part of their tail-feathers' shafts.
What a pleasure when something new comes along! Pulling out my field guide I consciously savored my confusion and all the possibilities. Turns out it was indeed a motmot, but a special one, the Blue-throated Motmot, ASPATHA GULARIS. It's endemic just to the Mexican highlands this side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the highlands of southern Guatemala and Honduras. Howell describes it as a shy and elusive species so maybe that's why I've not seen one before. The genus Aspatha is monotypic -- so unusual that it contains only one species, our Aspatha gularis.
One feature making the Blue-throated Motmot unusual is its tail, which lacks the missing barbs characteristic of other motmot species. You might recall that in the Yucatan Turquoise-browed Motmots were frequently seen. When I introduced them I wrote:
"The tail consists of two long central feathers that are stripped of their webbing for an inch or two, an inch or so above the tips. The adult birds remove the webbing themselves and I'm not at all sure why. Moreover, the birds tend to perch slowly swinging their tails from side to side like clock pendulums."
At dawn on Thursday morning I saw the bird again near where I first saw him. This time he couldn't quickly escape into weeds and I saw that he was injured and couldn't fly more than a second or two. I'm guessing that a kid with a slingshot got him because most boys and young men here shoot everything that moves, and the more unusual the target the harder they try. The bird clambered up the roadcut next to us and entered a hole beneath a tree root, leaving only his tail exposed outside. Motmots love cavities in cliffs and bluffs. A Maya legend explains that this very habit of hiding in a cliff-hole while leaving the tail outside is why motmot tails are missing those feather barbs.
This blue-throated species is a tropical-upland specialist found in humid to semihumid forests between 1500 and 3000 meters (4900 to 9800 feet).
You can see a Blue-throated Motmot here.