Toh

Solitary, covered with beautiful plumage of shimmering blue, green, black and cinnamon, the Toh bird sits poised on a tree limb overlooking a cenote. Perfectly at ease it swishes a ragged tail back and forth incessantly, its two large central bare except for a fluff of vivid turquoise at their tip.Both species of Toh — Eumomota superciliosa and Momotus momota — native to the Yucatan Peninsula, form part of a larger family containing eight species around the world, six of which are found in Mexico. They are basically differentiated by the color of their head feathers, although the second species, momotidae, is largest.Some books on the subject indicate that the name Toh is only given to the species Eumomota superciliosa, while the Momotus is known as jut-jut for the sound it produces. Only the first of these species lives in the Yucatan but their thinking is the pinnacle from the other range extends throughout southeastern Mexico to Costa Rica.

LEGEND
According to a legend told by Ramón Castillo Perez and collected in a book about Mayan birds written by Anne La Bastille Bowes, the Toh was a member of the royal family of birds that existed during remote times in the Mayan bird kingdom.
It had a long, delicate and bright tail resplendent with color that made the Toh appear as beautiful as King Kukul. So much admiration by other birds turned the Toh prideful and arrogant. Instead of working it perched in the deepest, coolest parts of the forest all day long telling stories with other aristocratic birds while feeding on insects and tiny lizards. It’s vanity was so great that it even asked other birds to go out and hunt its food so that the Toh’s long and beautiful feathers tail feathers wouldn’t get ruffled.

One afternoon dark storm clouds began to gather in the sky. Seeing this the birds called an urgent meeting to discuss their safety and assigned each other specific tasks to perform; Chuchut the woodpecker, Panchel the toucan, Mox, Xut and Exikin the parakeets and guacamayas began to cut and pull together branches for a shelter, while Bach the Chachalaca and Cutz the wild turkey transported the heavier ones. Small birds such as crows and orioles were given the task of gathering grass and small plants to cover the shelter.

Other birds collected fruits and seeds for food while others crisscrossed the jungle to warn other animals of the approaching storm. Their leader was Oc, the vulture king.

Only the Toh refused to help, saying he was “an aristocrat, not a laborer”. The other birds urged him to help saying that all would suffer if the storm caught them unprepared. Grudgingly the elegant bird joined in their work. After only a few minutes, feeling tired and sweaty he snuck off into the jungle when no one was looking, finding a hiding place in the cracks of a nearby stone wall. Comfortably ensconced the Toh quickly fell asleep convinced that no one could see him, yet unaware that his long tail hung out of the hole and lay across the path used by workers as they carried their loads back and forth.

Some time afterwards he woke up and heard the other birds singing. The storm had passed without doing much damage and the bird kingdom was celebrating its good luck. Flying out of his hiding place the Toh joined the rest of his friends and inquired if they felt as tired as he did after so much hard work.

They all answered wearily but assured him that the work was necessary to save the forest and its inhabitants from what could have been a great disaster. Then the aristocracy called the Toh to join them and they all flew off to their favorite gathering place deep in the jungle. As always, he perched on the highest branch to make sure that everyone could admire his beautiful tail.

Suddenly one of his friends began to laugh at the Toh and pointed to his tail, soon all the other birds were laughing at him and saying “Your tail is ruined. You probably damaged it while working so hard”. The Toh was sure it was a joke but when he looked back at his tail feathers he saw two naked stems that ended in a small fluff of feathers, looking much like arrows. Horrified, it dawned on him that in this must’ve happened while he was asleep. Deeply embarrassed the vain bird accepted his guilt but could not bear that his friends knew the truth. The Toh was so ashamed he flew away to live in the remotest part of the jungle where he dug a hole in a mound of earth and hid from everyone.

To this day the Toh continues to live as a recluse in the jungle avoiding other birds and living in a hole that he builds in mounds of powdered limestone that are frequently close to human activities. He prefers to live in the low forest in the vicinity of cenotes while the jut-jut lives near ponds in the high jungle.