Bold puffbirds that have a taste for feisty army ants

These birds are named for their fluffy plumage and somewhat rotund shape. These birds inhabit the tropical, humid forests and woodlands of Central and South America, where they play a significant role in the ecosystem as both predators and seed dispersers.

Notharchus puffbirds exhibit striking black-and-white plumage that offers them excellent camouflage among the dappled light of the forest understory. Their appearance is not the only distinctive trait; their behavior and feeding strategies are equally remarkable. As carnivorous birds, their diet predominantly consists of insects and small vertebrates, which they catch with remarkable agility. They have also been known to consume a small amount of vegetable matter, making their diet somewhat eclectic within the avian world.

Army ants swarm through the forests in search of their own prey, and Notharchus puffbirds often take advantage of these swarms. By following the swarms, puffbirds capitalize on the insects and small creatures that are flushed out by the ants’ activity. This behavior is known as kleptoparasitism and is a testament to the puffbirds’ opportunistic feeding habits.

Notharchus puffbirds employ a “sit-and-wait” hunting strategy. They perch motionlessly, often for extended periods, before diving swiftly to capture their prey. Once caught, they return to their perch and use it as an anvil to subdue their meal by beating it against the hard surface before consumption. This method ensures that the prey is manageable and safe to ingest.

When it comes to reproduction, Notharchus puffbirds are monogamous, with pairs forming strong bonds. They show biparental care, which means that both the male and the female contribute to all aspects of offspring rearing, from nest building to feeding the chicks. Nesting for these birds is an industrious endeavor as they excavate burrows in earthen banks or sometimes in arboreal termite nests. These nests provide a secure environment for their eggs and future chicks.