This little bird has been described as “a jewel of emerald and ruby.” With its bright green plumage, distinctive red throat, whitish breast, pink sides and rounded form, the broad-billed tody charms every observer at the very first glance. Its bright colors caused the first naturalists visiting the island to initially question if it was a tiny parrot or perhaps parakeet; In Haiti this bird’s name, “Kolibri” is derived from the French word for hummingbird, perhaps owing to the tody’s diminutive size and long beak. However, the broad-billed tody’s family (todids or todys) is more closely related to the momotids (motmots) and alcedidinids (kingfishers and allies).
Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico each have their own species of tody, but Hispaniola is the only island that boasts two species: the broad-billed and the narrow-billed tody. Although the differences are admittedly subtle, the broad-billed tody can be distinguished from its close relative by its distinctive call, shorter, broader beak, paler colors, slightly larger size, and by its restriction to lower elevations, below 700 meters. However, the two species do overlap in some low and mid-elevation mountain areas.
The broad-billed tody is widely distributed on Hispaniola. Reports going back to 1931 considered it as one of the most abundant and most regularly observed species on the whole island.
Fortunately, today it is still relatively easy to see. It occurs in a wide range of habitats, but it is most common in dry, limestone forests, shade coffee plantations, mangroves, pine forests and a range of wet and secondary forests, including the National Botanical Garden, right in the city of Santo Domingo. It can be very abundant in some places, where its frequent, insistant call: tirp, tirp, tirp alerts us to its presence. Often audible, too, is its distinctive brrrrrrrr call, followed by a short sallying flight, and the snap of its bill as it captures another insect. Often, a tody will perch quietly on a tree branch with its tail pointed down and its bill upwards, moving only its head, as it scans the area, or follows the trajectory of potential prey. Its color blends in so well with the vegetation that when silent, it is nearly impossible to see it until it moves.
“It is true that there are some little birds, all green, no bigger than the finches of Castile; but although they are green, they are not parrots.” Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo
Despite their small size, todies have a voracious appetite: typically eating almost half their body weight in insects each day. Its Spanish name, barrancolí refers to its habit of nesting in earthen banks or barrancos. Pairs work together, using their bills and claws to excavate the nest. While one is working, the other one rests on a branch nearby, until together, they have completed a curved tunnel 40 to 50 centimeters long, at the end of which they lay their eggs on loose soil. Todies are exceptionally attentive parents, feeding their older chicks at a rate that is among the highest ever recorded for any insectivorous bird species. Luckily for us, beyond its abiding beauty and charm,this species plays an important role controlling insect pests.