Physical Characteristics

Cotingas are a family of brightly colored Central and South American birds that are so closely related to tyrant flycatchers that there has been some disagreement about which family some of the species belong to. Cotingas are also related to the manakin family.

Members of the cotinga family vary greatly in size and physical appearance. They range from tiny, 3-inch (8-centimeter) birds to 20-inch (50-centimeter) birds the size of crows. In the smaller species, the females tend to be larger and heavier than the male birds, but in the larger species, the females are smaller than the males. Males and females usually look different. The males are more colorful than the females.

Male cotingas tend to be brightly colored with shiny, jewellike feathers of red, orange, blue, green, and purple, depending on the species. These birds are some of the most attractive, colorful birds in the world. In addition to their brilliant feathers, many species of cotinga have evolved odd decorative features, probably important in attracting a mate. These include oversized head crests, inflatable throat sacs, and wattles, which are extra flaps of skin and feathers that hang from the neck.

Cotingas are also known for their voices, which can be quite loud. For example, the call of the screaming piha, sometimes called the "voice of the Amazon," sounds like a loud wolf whistle. It can be heard for more than half a mile (1 kilometer). Bell-birds, another group of cotingas, make a distinctive ringing sound as if someone had hit a metal bell. These are some of the loudest of any birdcalls. Although cotingas can be loud, they are often shy and difficult to see. Species that are brightly colored tend to have quieter calls than those that have duller, darker feathers.

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