Turquoise-Browed Motmot: The National Bird of El Salvador

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: February 23, 2023
© iStock.com/Fireglo2
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El Salvador is a Central American country with a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Honduras is along the northeast border and Guatemala is the north. The rainforests in El Salvador host some of the most unusual species including a wide variety of birds. El Salvador has big-billed toucans and colorful macaws but neither of these are the national bird. Read on to find out all about the national bird of El Salvador.

What is the National Bird of El Salvador?

The national bird of El Salvador is the turquois-browed motmot. When you see the coloration of these birds you will understand why the El Salvador people chose this amazing bird. Yes, the bird does have turquois colored brows, but it is an incredibly beautiful bird with a mix of turquois, brilliant greens and reds. One of the unique characteristics of these birds is their long tail feathers that are wire-like leading to bright turquoise discs. In El Salvador they call the bird Torogoz.

The national bird of El Salvador is the turquoise-browed motmot
The national bird of El Salvador is the turquois-browed motmot.


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Where Do Turquois-browed Motmot Live?

Turquois-browed Motmot live in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. In El Salvador you will find them in semi-arid forest and shrubland but you won’t find them in the densest parts of the rainforest. They tend to perch on trees at the edges of forests and more out in the open than some other tropical birds. Turquois-browed motmots do not make cup-shaped nests out of twigs, instead they dig long burrows in the ground and along river banks.

What Does the Turquois-Browed Motmot Symbolize?

The Turquois-browed motmot symbolizes freedom, liberty and the beauty of nature. There are legends in Central America stemming from early Mayan cultures about the motmot. The legend goes that the motmot was given the job to wake all the other birds in the morning. One morning, at sunrise, it forgot and as a punishment it was stripped of all its tail feathers except two. Those two tail feathers are what dangle behind the motmot today.

El Salvador's turquoise-browed motmot symbolizes freedom
El Salvador’s turquoise-browed motmot symbolizes freedom, liberty and the beauty of nature.

©Becky Matsubara / Flickr – License

Is the National Bird of El Salvador Also the National Animal?

Yes! The turquois-browed motmot is the national bird and animal of El Salvador. Some countries specify a specific national animal while others, like the U.S. specify a national mammal. The national mammal of the U.S. is the American Bison. The national bird of the U.S. is the bald eagle.

Is the Turquois-browed Motmot on the El Salvador Flag?

No. The flag does have the coat of arms, but the national bird is not on the design. The El Salvador flag has three equal horizontal stripes of blue white and blue. The beautiful coat of arms is featured in the center of the flag. The coat of arms is very colorful, just like the turquois-browed motmot with the five volcanoes of Cordelira de Apaneca in the center. The bright green volcanoes are set in the cool blue waters of the ocean with a colorful sun rising in the backdrop. The words REPÚBLICA DE EL SALVADOR EN LA AMÉRICA CENTRAL in all caps, circles the image and the national motto, DIOS UNIÓN LIBERTAD (God Union Liberty) is printed on a gold banner.

El Salvador's flag is colorful much like the national bird
The coat of arms in El Salvador’s flag is colorful much like the national bird, with the five volcanoes of Cordelira de Apaneca in the center.

©iStock.com/Oleksii Liskonih

Why is the Turquois-Browed Motmot called the “Clock Bird”?

Sometimes the Motmot is referred to as the “clock bird” because its tail feathers will sway back and forth like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. It is believed that motmot do this to let a predator know that they have been detected and they also use the display during courting rituals.

What Other Animals Live in El Salvador?

Other animals that live in El Salvador are the long nosed anteater, caiman and crocodiles, flying squirrels, geckos, howler monkeys, ocelot and jaguars. Other birds in El Salvador are the keel-billed toucan, colorful quetzal, harpy eagle, roseate spoonbill, scarlet macaw and the tiny hummingbird.

When it comes to snakes there are plenty slithering around, especially in the rainforest, but there are six venomous ones to be aware of:

  • Jumping vipers
  • Hognose pit vipers
  • Mountain pit vipers
  • Cantils (a species of pit viper)
  • Central American rattlesnakes
  • South American rattlesnakes

Other dangerous animals in the country include venomous centipedes, scorpions and spiders as well as the aforementioned caimen and crocodiles. Jaguars are definitely dangerous but they are rarely seen and are actually considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN. Many of the unique animals in El Salvador are being protected at national parks and preserves. The people of El Salvador value their diverse fauna and flora.

What Animals Live Off the Coast of El Salvador?

Off the coast of El Salvador is the largest animal in the world! Blue whales spend some time during their migrations off the coast of El Salvador. Did you know blue whales can get to be 98 feet long? You can charter a whale watching tour from several of the beachside towns along the coast. Dolphins frequent the coast of El Salvador and there are at least 9 different species of sharks including shortfin makos, hammerheads and great white sharks.

For some excellent deep sea fishing you can have a hand at trying to reel in a massive marlin, swordfish, tuna or mackerel. You will most likely see a dolphin or a pod of dolphins as they are common off the coast. Closer to shore you might glimpse a West Indian manatee. There are also four species of sea turtles like the leatherback, hawksbill, olive ridley and black turtle.

Blue whales can be found off the coast of El Salvador
Blue whales spend some time during their migrations off the coast of El Salvador and can grow to 98 feet in length.

©Andrew Sutton/Shutterstock.com

If You Are Visiting El Salvador Where Can You See the Turquois-browed Motmot?

Two of the most likely places to spot the national bird of El Salvador is at the Parque Nacional Cerro Verde and the Cerro El Pital. Both parks are habitats for a variety of birds and wildlife so bring your camera to see if you are lucky enough to get a shot of one of these marvelous birds.

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Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa)
Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) spotted in El Salvador.
© iStock.com/Fireglo2

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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  1. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15953/123791436
  2. Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Eumomota_superciliosa/
  3. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22682992/163630124#habitat-ecology
  4. Birdfact, Available here: https://birdfact.com/articles/national-bird-of-el-salvador