Cotingas are a highly diverse group of birds that make up the family Cotingidae. Species of cotingas occur widely in tropical forests of South and Central America. Cotingas are fly-catching birds, and are similar in many respects to species of tyrant flycatchers (family Tyrannidae), although these families are not closely related.
Species of cotingas are extremely variable in size, shape, color, behavior, and natural history, and the family is therefore difficult to characterize. As a result, estimates of the number of species range from about 70 to 80, depending on the taxonomic treatment that is consulted. Many of these cotingas have a highly local (or endemic) distribution in tropical rain forests, and many species are endangered.
The largest cotinga is the crow-sized, umbrella-bird (Cephalopterus ornatus). This is a slate-gray, 16 in (40 cm) long bird with a large crest over the top of the head, and an inflatable orange throat-sac, which is used to give resonance to its low-pitched, bellowing calls. The smallest species is the kinglet calyptura (Calyptura cristata), only 3 in (7.5 cm) long. Some cotingas are rather drab in color, while others are extraordinarily beautiful, with hues of deep red, orange, purple, and yellow occurring in some species.
The feeding habits of cotingas are also highly varied. Some cotingas are exclusively fruit-eaters, while others are insectivorous, but most have a mixed diet of both of these types of foods. The insect-hunting species tend to glean their prey from the surfaces of foliage or branches. Alternatively, they may "fly-catch," that is sit motionless while scanning for large, flying insects, which, when seen, are captured in the beak during a brief aerial sally.
Perhaps the most famous species in the cotinga family are the cocks-of-the-rock (Rupicola spp.). For example, males of the Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola) are colored a beautiful golden orange, with an extraordinary semi-circular, flattened crest over the entire top of the head, long plumes over the wings, and delicate black-and-white markings. Male cocks-of-the-rock have a spectacular courtship display in which several cocks gather at a traditional strutting ground. Each bird clears a small area, known as a "court," in which to perform his display. When a female appears, the cocks fly down to their individual court, where they assume a still pose, designed to maximize the visual impact of their charismatic, orange crest on the female. Although all of the cocks seem spectacularly attractive to any human observer, the female is able to discern one that is even more-so, and she chooses him as her mate.
Other cotingas are noted for their extremely loud calls, which can resonate through even the densest tropical rainforest. Male bell-birds (Procnias spp.) advertise themselves to females with their bell-like calls, while male pihas (Lipaugus spp.) make extremely loud, piercing sounds to proclaim their virility.
The only cotinga to occur in the United States is the rose-throated becard (Platypsaris aglaiae), which is present in local populations close to the Mexican border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
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