1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Motmot

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MOTMOT. According to Hernandez in his Historia avium Novae Hispaniae (p. 52), published in Rome in 1651, this is the Mexican name of a bird which he described well enough to leave no doubt as to what he meant; but the word being soon after printed Momot by Nieremberg and others gave rise to the Latinized Momotus, invented by M. J. Brisson as a generic term, which has since been generally adopted by ornithologists, though motmot has been retained as the English form. Linnaeus knew of only one species of motmot, and referred it to his genus Ramphastos (properly Ramphastus) under the name of R. momota. This is the Momotus brasiliensis of modern ornithologists, and from its geographical range cannot be the original Motmot of Hernandez, but is most likely the Guira guainumbi of Marcgrave.

The motmots form the sub-family Momotinae, which with the Todinae (see Tody) form the family Momotidae of Coraciiform birds, the nearest allies being rollers (q.v.) and kingfishers (q.v.). In outward appearance the motmots have an undoubted resemblance to bee-eaters, but, though beautiful birds, various shades of blue and green predominating in their plumage, they do not exhibit such decided and brilliant colours; and, while the bee-eaters are only found in the Old World, the motmots are a purely Neotropical form, extending from southern Mexico to Paraguay, and the majority of species inhabit Central America. Their ordinary food is small reptiles and fruits, and insects caught on the wing. The nest of one species, as observed by Robert Owen, is at the end of a hole bored in the bank of a watercourse, and the eggs are pure white and glossy (Ibis, 1861, p. 65). Little else has been recorded of their ways.

The Momotidae form but a small group, containing about six genera, of which the best known are: Momotus, Baryphthengus, Hylomanes, Eumomota, Aspatha and Prionorhynchus, and the number of species is very small. While all have a general resemblance in the serrated edges of the bill and many other characters, Momotus has the normal number of twelve rectrices, while the rest have only ten, which in Hylomanes have the ordinary configuration, but in adult examples of all the others the shaft of the median pair is devoid of barbs for the space of about an inch a little above the extremity, so as to produce a spatulate appearance, such as is afforded by certain humming-birds known as "racquet-tails (see HUMMING-BIRD), kingfishers of the genus Tanysiptera (see KINGFISHER), and parrots of the group Prioniturus. C. Waterton (Wanderings, Journey 2, chap. iii.), mentioning the species M. brasiliensis by its native name "houtou," long ago asserted that this peculiarity was produced by the motmot itself nibbling off the barbs, and this extraordinary statement, though for a while doubted, has since been shown by O. Salvin (Proc. Zool. Society, 1873, pp. 429-433), on A. Bartlett's authority, to be perfectly true. (A. N.)