Physical characteristics

Wildlife enthusiasts treasure jacamars for their jewel-like colors. Their most distinctive characteristic is the long, sharp bill they use to snatch prey out of the air. In some species, the bill can be three times as long as the bird's head. Jacamars vary in size, from the brown jacamar (Brachygalba lugubris), at 7 in (18 cm) long, to the 1-ft-long (30 cm) great jacamar (Jacamerops aurea).

All jacamars, except one species, have short legs with four toes: two facing forward and two facing back. The three-toed jacamar (Jacamaralcyon tridaetyla), however, lacks the rear (first) toe. A jacamar has a long tail, with 10-12 graduated tail feathers. The short wings have 10 primaries, and contour feathers have a short secondary shaft (except in the genus Malacoptila).

Males and females have similar plumage, although females of some species may have less striking colors on the head and

A rufous-tailed jacamar (Galbula ruficauda) with its insect prey. (Photo by Doug Wechsler/VIREO. Reproduced by permission.)

neck. Jacamars, known for their brilliant plumage, typically have a metallic green head, reddish underparts, and a light patch on the throat or breast. Some species have color variations ranging from purple to red or chestnut brown. The paradise jaca-mar (Galbula dea) has much darker bluish black plumage with a contrasting white patch on the throat and a long, elegant tail.

While most newly hatched piciform birds are born naked, jacamars are covered with white down. By the time they leave the nest, plumage resembles that of the parents.

Jacamars are not songbirds, but A. Skutch has noted that they have loud calls, trills, and short songs that could be considered melodious.

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