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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Amazing Todies: Caribbean "Kingfishers" of the Forest

[Maricao State Forest; El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. Nov 2013]

The Todies are a family of 5 species of tiny, green birds that are found exclusively in the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Cayman Islands:
  1. Puerto Rican Tody
  2. Cuban Tody
  3. Jamaican Tody
  4. Broad-billed Tody
  5. Narrow-billed Tody
While it may appear to be excessively indulgent to focus an entire blog post on a single species, the Tody's irresistible charisma is enough to overcome any objections that might be raised in this regard.

Ranging in size from 4 to 5 inches, the Todies are shaped like, and related to the Kingfishers (and Bee-eaters and Rollers).

Visually, all the 5 species share the same basic color scheme -- green on the head, wings and back, white on the breast and a brilliant red throat. Some species can also show accents of yellow and blue.

As a subject, the Tody family will be represented here by the Puerto Rican Tody which was studied in El Yunque National Forest and Maricao State Forest in the Northeast and Southwest corner of the Island respectively.

Todies are best located by listening to their buzzy chirps. They are quite skittish and if disturbed will quickly fly into the dense foliage where they become invisible in a thicket of green leaves. They will also clatter their bills when chasing off intruders.

The Puerto Rican Tody has a lime-green head and emerald wings and back. The throat is a brilliant crimson red, outlined by a pure white mustache. The flanks are yellow and the the breast is a dirty white. A tinge of turquoise blue is evident on the primaries and the back of the tail.

The male and female can be told apart from the color of the eyes -- the females have distinctive white eyes that make identification easy.

The Puerto Rican Tody is the smallest of the 5 Tody Species. Like other members of the family, it nests in tunnels dug into embankments. However, the Puerto Rican Tody is unique in its ability to control its body temperature -- by as much as 14 degrees Celsius.

Found in heavily forested areas on the Island, the Tody is a winged predator feeding on crickets, beetles, spiders and even small lizards.

As this photo essay amply demonstrates, the Todies are a fascinating family of birds and their smallest representative, the Puerto Rican Tody, can be found, among other places, in the the only Tropical Rainforest found in the US National Forest network.

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