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Puffbirds are 32 species of birds that make up the family Bucconidae. This family is in the order Piciformes, which also contains the woodpeckers, toucans, barbets, jacamars, and honey-guides. Puffbirds are native to lowland tropical forests from southern Mexico, through to Paraguay and northern Argentina in South America. Most species occur in Amazonia.

Puffbirds are short, squat birds, with a large head, a stout, often hooked beak, and a short tail. The puff-ball effect is further heightened by the habit these birds have of frequently raising their feathers. However, as soon as they sense an intrusion, they immediately flatten their feathers, to become less conspicuous. The plumage of puffbirds is a rather subdued gray, brown, or white.

Puffbirds sit patiently at vantage places on a tree branch, scanning for potential prey. When they spy a small lizard, frog, or large insect, they sally forth and attempt to seize it. Insects are sometimes hawked in the air.

Puffbirds nest in cavities dug into termite nests, or in burrows excavated vertically or on a steep incline into the ground, with a chamber at the bottom. They lay two to three eggs that are incubated by both parents, which also share in the rearing of the chicks. During the day, the chicks wait to be fed near the burrow entrance, but at night they retire to the lower chamber, often camouflaging the entrance with leaves as they descend.

The white-necked puffbird (Notharchus macrorhynchus) is one of the more common species, occurring widely in Central and South America.

Bill Freedman

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