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Creature Feature #11 All Puffed Up!

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

This bird will certainly see you, but chances are you won't see it. White-whiskered Puffbirds have an interesting hunting strategy. They sit perfectly still, waiting for a large insect to zoom past, then they sally out and grab it in flight. They perch on fairly low vegetation, often within 3 meters of the ground, but because they are so motionless we may walk right under one. These birds may also pluck frogs or lizards from the ground, take them back to their perch and beat them to death. Puffbirds get their name from their habit of puffing up their feathers and twitching their tail when excited. The white whiskers are modified feathers.

Puffbirds make deep burrows on banks, lining the nest area with dried leaves and laying 2 white eggs. The openings to the burrows look like rodent holes (although sometimes the birds disguise the opening with fresh leaves). I remember setting a mouse trap (I use live traps that hold the creature safely and do not cause it any harm) in front of the burrow and nearly having a heart attack as a bird zoomed out right by my face! Worse still, the next day I had caught several crabs in my traps! I didn't know at that time that crabs went so far into the forest.

Puffbirds are quite common throughout the Finca Bellavista Community, mostly in the taller forest. I saw this one along the trail to my house, El Fenix. A second species, the White-necked Puffbird, looks more like a kingfisher, as it is blue-black with a white throat, collar and forehead. It tends to perch in the canopy and is more easily seen on the ridge. It has the unusual habit of nesting in active termite mounds. Several species of bats also use termite mounds as nest sites, and the puffbirds and bats sometimes compete for the perfect termite mound! We will save the termite nesting bats for another feature, but here is an image to whet your curiosity!

by Fiona A. Reid

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