Coraciiformes TAG

Blue-crowned Motmots - Breeding at the Milwaukee County Zoo

Information supplied by: Carol Kagy

Photographs by: Heather Neldner

Although several different nesting sites were designed at the Milwaukee County Zoo for a pair of wild-caught blue-crowned motmots (Momotus momota) obtained on 17 October 2000, only two of these sites were heavily utilized by the pair of motmots. The nesting sites constructed for the motmots were based on a design successfully in use at the Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Gardens. The first site was located behind a Minnow Pool and is composed of tunnels leading to a twelve inch square nest box. The second site was a gunite wall with a cavity entrance leading to a four foot PVC tunnel and ending in a twelve inch square nest box. Each of these two nest sites will be detailed further along with brief discussions of other attempts in a following section.

The free flight enclosure at the Milwaukee County measures approximately 50 feet in height, 40 feet in width, and 120 feet in length. At the time of their first successful reproduction in the spring of 2006, species sharing the enclosure with the pair of blue-crowned motmots include 1.0 sora rail, 1.0 crimson-backed tanager, 2.0 white-throated laughing thrush, 9.5.1 boat-billed heron, 5.4.3 Waldrapp ibis, 1.1 African spoonbill, 5.2.12 white-bellied stork, 4.5 hooded merganser, 1.0 puna teal, 3.1.5 ringed teal, and 4.8 Inca tern.

The diet is provided in six dishes throughout the day and each diet dish includes the following: 1/4 cup softbill/fruit mix (apple paradise pellets mixed with ground up lettuce, hard-boiled egg, cooked sweet potato and carrots, crushed pineapple, chopped grapes, bananas, apples, and melon), 2 pieces of crumbled dog chow, 30 mealworms, 20 mighty mealworms, 20 waxworms, 6 whole pinkies, 1/8 tsp calcium mix on the insects and pinkies. The birds are also offered 30 pinkies throughout the day as well as free choice crickets twice per day and additional mighty mealworms and waxworms twice per day.

Below is a chronological listing of the observed nesting activity performed by the pair of blue-crowned motmots since their arrival at the zoo.

December 2003:Minnow Pool Nest Structure

A nest structure was designed and built for the pair of motmots based on information received from Elizabeth Prouse (Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical Gardens). The nest structure was set up behind the Minnow Pool in a free-flight exhibit. The nest structure consisted of three sections of tunnels ranging from two foot to seven foot in length and five inches in diameter. These tunnels connected together through the use of "Y" joints in the drainage pipe. At the termination of the drainage pipe, connections were made in two locations to a twelve inch square nest box with a hinged top were made using cable ties. A stone facade covered the entrance to thenest tunnels, which were located above the ground along with the nest box to eliminate the risk of tunnel collapse.

Supplies Needed to Construct Minnow Pool Nest Structure
Twelve inch square nest box with hinged top (with two 5" diameter holes, one each in two different sides)
Plywood stands with supports (to support stone facade): Made Using -
(1) 2' x 2' piece with 5" diameter holes in center
(1) 2' high x 2.5' long with two holes (5" diam., 10" apart, 5" from sides)
Plastic drainage tubing (5" diameter)
(1) Seven feet long
(1) Three feet long
(1) Two feet long
"Y" Joint to connect tunnels together
Cable ties (used to attach the tunnels to the plywood and nest box - holes were drilled into the tunnels and wood for attachment points)
Indoor/Outdoor carpeting to cover the nest box

January 2004: Raised Planter Nest

The pair of birds began digging in a raised planter pocket near a bougainvillea plant. A twelve inch square nest box was buried in this planter pocket with an attached three foot long section of tunnel (again using the five inch diameter drainage tubing). The planter pocket would not allow for anything further. After the initial digging, there was no further interest in the area.

June and July 2004: Gunite Rockwork Nest Structure

The birds began showing an interest in the four foot tunnel in the rockwork near the waterfall in the exhibit. (The gunite rockwork was modified in the 1990's with 5" diameter PVC tunnels ending in attached nest boxes measuring approximately twelve inches square). The tunnel was packed with dirt and was almost immediately excavated, but was then left alone. This nest became active again in November 2005 and January 2006 and the details of those nesting periods can be found in their chronological sequence.

November 2004: Dirt Mound Nest

Excavation was initiated by the pair of birds in November 2004 on a mound of dirt on the ground. Plywood sheeting was added to the mound to provide a solid roof structure. The motmots excavated almost entirely around the perimeter of the plywood sheeting, nearly collapsing the mound. This area was reinforced in January 2005 with landscape stones to the front of the nest tunnel entrance and landscape logs to provide additional support to provide more support to the excavated areas.

February 2005: Minnow Pool Nest Structure

There was further excavation of the tunnels behind the Minnow Pool of the East Free Flight Exhibit initially constructed in December 2003 after the tunnels were filled with dirt rather than aspen shavings as were used first.

June 2005: Minnow Pool Nest Structure

Broken eggs were found near the nest site behind the Minow Pool. The tunnels and the nest box were not buried for fear that they may collapse. Speculation is that the amount of activity in the area by the Inca terns may have caused the motmots to abandon this nest site.

November 2005: Gunite Rock Nest Structure

An extension tunnel of six foot is added to the PVC tunnel in the gunite rockwork near the waterfall (the birds had originally excavated the four foot entrance tunnel in June/July 2004). The motmots hang around the area but prefer to excavate around a banana plant in a planter pocket instead.

Supplies Needed To Construct Gunite Nest Extension
(2) 14" square pieces of plywood with 5" diameter hold in center (one attached to the concrete wall, one attached to the nest box).
(3) pieces of plywood (6' long x 6" high) attached together to create a three-sided "U-Shaped" support sleeve for the tunnel extension.
Six foot long drainage tunnel (five inch diameter) packed with dirt.

January & February 2006: Gunite Rock Nest Structure

The motmots were observed returning to the tunnel beside the waterfall. By late March the six foot extension tunnel had been completely excavated! The motmots became very defensive of the tunnel, even chasing away a hooded merganser who checks it out. Eggs were discovered in the nest box in April 2006 and were incubated by the parent birds. Three offspring (all female) hatched from this first clutch with one additional egg not hatching. A subsequent clutch was laid following the fledging of the chicks from the first nesting. In the second clutch, four eggs were laid and three of them hatched. As of this writing, these three chicks have yet to have gender determined. This particular nest site appeared to work well for several reasons:

The tunnel was long enough to discourage other birds from entering.
The nest box was on the other side of a concrete wall, it could be isolated from any noise disturbances.
The nest box was in an area that could be readily and quickly checked (when the parents left to eat or change incubation duties) to ensure that the eggs/chicks were doing well.