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Plantcutters: Phytotomidae

Physical Characteristics

Adult plantcutters are generally between 7 and 8 inches (18 and 20 centimeters) long, and have short, thick, cone-shaped bills. Their bodies are stocky, although they weigh only 1.5 ounces (40 grams). The birds' wings and legs tend to be short, although plantcutters have long tails and strong, large feet. In the males and females of the Peruvian and red-breasted species, the head peaks in a short crest. The rufous-tailed plantcutter is similar looking, but lacks a crest and has more red in its tail.

Male plantcutters are more brightly colored than the females, and show off their cinnamon or rusty breasts and bellies and distinctive black eye stripes at mating time. Neither sex is particularly colorful, however, blending into their dry environment with ashy gray (male) and buff-brown (female) backs. Both sexes have white bars on their wings and tail ends and either yellow or crimson irises.

These birds are locally known in South America as cotarramas, cortaplantas, and raras ("rare ones"). Their name derives from the highly unusual rows of sharp, forward-leaning, tooth-like projections on the edges of their bills on both sides. Made of keratin (KARE-ah-tin), like the bill itself, these projections allow the birds to pulverize and eat the leafy foods on which they feed.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPlantcutters: Phytotomidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Peruvian Plantcutter (phytotoma Raimondii): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, PLANTCUTTERS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS