The puffbirds are an insectivorous bird family related to the jacamars, but lacking the iridescent colours of that group. The Russet-throated Puffbird is fairly common in dry scrub and dry forest. It excavates a burrow in an arboreal termite colony, and lays three white eggs.
The Russet-throated Puffbird is typically 22 cm long and weighs 50 g. It is a dumpy bird with a large head, long tail and a thick black hooked-tipped bill. The face is mainly white with a large yellow eye. The upperparts are brown, with whitish spotting and white wing tips.
The underparts vary considerably. The two western subspecies have an off-white throat, buff underparts, and two dark brown chest bands, and are sometimes split as a separate species, Two-banded Puffbird (H. bicinclus (Gould), 1837). The three subspecies found in Colombia and in Venezuela east of the Andes have a single breast band, a deep rufous throat and whitish or buff underparts.
The Russet-throated Puffbird's call is a long series of woduk notes, often given synchronously by a pair of birds.