a web page by Don Roberson
JACAMARS Galbulidae
  • 18 species in the Neotropics
  • DR personal total: 10 species (55%), 1 photo'd

The Jacamars are a small family of sit-and-pursue predators in forests of the Neotropics. There are five genera in the family but all jacamars are easily recognized as members of the Galbulidae by their long, straight, thin and sharply-pointed bill; their generally colorful plumage; their slim, small-headed shape; and, for a substantial number of species, a long thin tail. The closest relatives to Jacamars are Puffbirds [Bucconidae] and together they form the Order Galbuliformes. Both jacamars and puffbirds are Neotropical sit-and-wait forst birds but jacamars have (mostly) long bills while puffbirds have (mostly) short, broad bills. These two families diverged about 36 million years ago (Prum et al. 2015).

The most speciose genus is Galbula, with 11 species. A good many of these are glistening green above with red or rufous bellies, but an exception is Paradise Jacamar (left, in a really nice photo by Arthur Grosset). While most Galbula jacamars forage at low elevations in the forest, Paradise Jacamar is primarily a canopy species in the Amazon Basin and the Guianas. It looks all-black from a distance but more a contrasting white throat and upper breast, but at close range shows metallic bluish-black sheen to upperparts. Pairs are most often found at tree-falls, clearings, or edges, where they sally out after flying insects. Dragonflies and bees are among the favorites. They excavate nest burrows in arboreal termitarias; Tobias (2002).

Surely the best known and most widespread member of genus Galbula is Rufous-tailed Jacamar (two photos below: front and back of same individual roosting after a rain). It is glistening green above with a green breast, white throat, and rufous belly and undertail. It occurs in a wide variety of humid lowland forests from eastern Mexico to Bolivia but it is not in the Amazon Basin where there is a variety of other species. This individual was roosting at eye-level low in a gallery forest along a creek in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Yellow-billed Jacamar (right in a lovely shot by David Fisher) is a small Galbula jacamar that inhabits the interior of primary terra firme and varvea forests north of the Amazon and through the Guianas. It frequents lower levels of the forest, just 1-10 m off the ground and can be quite inconspicuous. David Fisher's photo does show some of the lovely glittering gloss on crown (dark purple) and upperparts (shining green to rich blue.).

There are two jacamars in monotypic genera. Great Jacamar Jacamerops aureus is widespread in the Amazon Basin. It is the largest jacamar and while its coloration recalls many others in the family, its rufous coloration on the belly extends to the back in some races, and it has a much heavier and somewhat down-curved bill. Three-toed Jacamar Jacamaralcyon tridactyla is an endangered species in the Atlantic coastal forests of southeast Brazil. It is small, rather dingy in appearance, and has only three toes on each foot.

The remaining six jacamars are small and shorter-tailed species found in northern or western South American lowlands. The White-eared Jacamar Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis and recently described Purus Jacamar G. purusianus are plumaged in rich chestnut. The four small jacamars in genus Brachygalba tend towards more brown and white in their patterns. The most widespread example is Brown Jacamar (below, in another Arthur Grosset photo). These range into more open savanna forests.


Photos: Arthur Grosset photographed the Paradise Jacamar Galbula dea at Manaus, Brazil. The two shots of Rufous-tailed Jacamar Galbula ruficauda were along the Rio Claro in the Brazilian Pantanal on 19 July 2010. David Fisher photographed the Yellow-billed Jacamar Galbula albirostris at Junglaven, Venezuela, in March 2007. Arthur Grosset photographed the Brown Jacamar Brachygalba lugubris in Thaimaçu, Pará, Brazil, in April 2003.

Uncredited photos © Don Roberson. Credited photos © Arthur Grosset and David Fisher, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved.
More of Arthur Grosset's excellent photos are on his web site.

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" per se but a solid introduction to this family, with some lovely photos, is in Tobias (2002).

Literature cited:

Prum, R.O., J.S. Bery, A. Dornburg, D.J. Field, J.P. Townsend, E.M. Lemmon, and A.R. Lemmon. 2015. A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing. Nature 526: 569–573.

Tobias, J.A. 2002. Family Galbulidae (Jacamars), pp. 74–101 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal, eds). Vol. 7. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.




  page created 1-5 Mar 2016  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved