Physical characteristics

The name puffbird is applied to the family because of an unusual propensity of its members to puff up their feathers when alarmed. Even when not alarmed they seem large-headed and large-eyed, with robust, slightly curved or hook-tipped bills. Puffbird wings tend to be short and rounded (there are 10 primaries and 12 rectrices), and their tails tend to be short and narrow, though broader and longer in some nunbirds (Monasa). Plumage is soft and loose. Feet are small and zygodactylous (two toes before and two behind), with the first and fourth digits permanently reversed. The most divergent species is the swallow-winged puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa), which has more tapered wings and a shorter bill than other family members.

Unlike jacamars with their gaudy garb, puffbird plumage lacks colorful tones or iridescence. Nevertheless, most have

Puffbird nest. (Illustration by Dan Erickson)

very striking plumage patterns, such as sharply demarcated breast bands, or streaked and spotted underparts. Puffbirds are generally sexually monomorphic: only two species of Malacoptila exhibit sex-related plumage differences, and in one of these the variation is minor.

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