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Return of Bird of the Week: White-whiskered Puffbird

White-whiskered Puffbird Male, Western Panama

White-whiskered Puffbird Female, Western Panama

Another of the puffbird species that WC has been able to photograph, this one in 2010. Panama is more or less in the middle of this species’ range, which extends from Mexico to Ecuador, generally in humid evergreen forests and shady forest edges, usually pretty low in the understory. This is an ambush predator. It perches motionless on branches, where it can be remarkably hard to see, and then sallies out to capture insects, spiders, frogs or lizards, then returning to its perch to beat the prey to death on the branch before eating it.

White-whiskered Puffbird Male, Panama

White-whiskered Puffbird Male, Panama

Unusually among puffbirds, it is sexually dimorphic. The male is rufous and the female is gray. The species is believed to be monogamous, and is usually found in male-female pairs year-round.

This species is also a burrow nester. The burrows are 12-18 inches deep, and the birds line the cavity with leaves. The entrance is screened with twigs and dead leaves. The pair shares incubation duties, but only the male broods the hatchlings. The hatchlings take about 20 days to fledge.

There are four subspecies; this is panamensis, the nominate subspecies. Based on locality, WC has actually seen all four subspecies. This is almost certainly the only puffbird species where WC can make that claim. Alexander Skutch, one of the pioneers of Central American ornithology, had a passion for White-whiskered Puffbirds (although that as hardly his only interest). As a result, it may be the best known and best studied of the family. WC needs to do a blog post on this amazing scientist some day…

Because of its extended range and willingness to occupy second growth forest, the White-whiskered Puffbird is a species of Least Concern.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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