Significance to humans

Their insectivory, apparent lethargy, infrequent singing, and dull coloration make puffbirds unsuitable pets and they rarely appear as cage birds. Their somber aspect gives rise to common names such as "nunbirds" and "monklets." They thus have almost no significance to humans apart from being the frequent brunt of insults in the literature. Many observers, from the distant past to the present, have described puffbirds as either stupid or lazy because they perch motionless for such long periods and allow men with guns or slingshots to approach closely. These derogatory terms are rather unfairly leveled at puffbirds because stillness is an integral part of their foraging niche and antipredator response. Moreover, the lightning dashes they make across fairly long distances to snatch mobile insects are indication that they are alert and effective hunters.

1. Black-fronted nunbird {Monasa nigrifrons); 2. Lanceolated monklet {Micromonacha lanceolata); S. Collared puffbird {Bucco capensis); 4. Rufous-capped nunlet {Nonnula ruficapilla); 5. Swallow-winged puffbird {Chelidoptera tenebrosa); 6. White-eared puffbird {Nystalus chacuru); 7. White-necked puffbird {Notharchus macrorhynchos); B. White-whiskered puffbird {Malacoptila panamensis). {Illustration by Dan Erickson)

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