Guyana: Puffbirds

Take a fistful of fluff, add a wicked bill, endless patience, and an insatiable hunger for fat insects, and you’ve got a puffbird. Puffbirds, though in the same order as woodpeckers, are perhaps more similar to kingfishers in their big-headed and neckless appearance, but they tend to be quieter and more retiring than either most woodpeckers or most kingfishers, just sitting in the shade, waiting for a juicy morsel to blunder by.

Guyana has a wonderful diversity of bucconids, and we had good experiences with most of them, from the flashy Black Nunbird, which we saw several times, to the subtly and intricately patterned Spotted Puffbird, encountered only in the damp woods at Surama.

This is a Guianan Puffbird, distinguished from the White-necked Puffbird sensu novo strictoque by the restricted white on the forehead, just visible in this distant shot, and the somewhat smaller (!) bill than the great honking honker of White-necked.

My favorite among the bucconids was the species we ran across most often; we could count on multiple sightings every day, usually of pairs perched and feeding together.

Swallow-winged Puffbirds were much more acrobatic and much more active than the other puffbirds we saw. They perch high in dead twigs, on the alert for passing insects, which they dart up to chase like pudgy swallows. In flight, they are unmistakable and odd, with rather short triangular wings and essentially no tail, reminding me of tiny Bateleurs in silhouette. There are many reasons to visit Guyana, but this funny bird is worth the trip all by itself.