The tapaculos (pronounced /tæpəˈku:ləʊ/) are a family, Rhinocryptidae, of small suboscine passerine birds, found mainly in South America and with the highest diversity in the Andean regions. Three species (Chocó, Tacarcuna, and the silvery-fronted) are found in southern Central America.

Ocellated Tapaculo (Acropternis orthonyx)
Ocellated tapaculo, Acropternis orthonyx
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Formicaroidea
Family: Rhinocryptidae
Wetmore, 1930



Tapaculos are small to medium-sized birds, with a total length ranging from 10–24 cm (4–9½ in). These are terrestrial species that fly only poorly on their short wings. They have strong legs, well-suited to their habitat of grassland or forest undergrowth. The tail is cocked and pointed towards the head, and the name tapaculo possibly derives from Spanish for "cover your behind". Another possible explanation is that it originates from the Chilean name for the white-throated tapaculo, simply tapaculo, which is an onomatopoeic reference to its commonly heard song.

While the majority of the family are small blackish or brown birds there are some larger and more colourful species. All tapaculos are skulking birds that frequently stay low in dense vegetation, even the larger, colorful species, and this renders them difficult to see. They are best located and – in the case of Scytalopus spp. – identified by their vocalisations.

They feed on insects, seeds and other soft plant material with their pointed bills, and will scratch on the ground like a pheasant.

Most species lay two or three white eggs in a covered location, whether it be a burrow, a hole in a tree, or a domed nest.

Status and conservation

Some species have highly localized distributions and, being poor fliers, they easily become isolated in small populations. BirdLife International currently (2007) consider one species vulnerable (Scytalopus panamensis), three species endangered (S. iraiensis, S. rodriguezi and S. robbinsi), and two species critically endangered (Eleoscytalopus psychopompus and Merulaxis stresemanni). The two critically endangered species are restricted to Atlantic forest of eastern Brazil, and were only recently rediscovered after several years without any records.

Taxonomy and systematics

The tapaculos were traditionally placed in a distinct family Rhinocryptidae; more recent research (Irestedt et al. 2002, Rice 2005a,b) indicates that according to analysis of mt and nDNA sequence data, the tapaculos might be better merged into the Formicariidae as tribe Rhinocryptini, as they are closer to the antthrushes than either is to the true antpittas.

Alternatively, the latter might be raised to family status. In this case, it would be possible to maintain the tapaculos as a separate family too, but it would seem altogether more warranted to consider them a subfamily of the Formicariinae sensu stricto, which would be called Rhinocryptinae.

Whether this latter approach, the placement as a tribe in a tapaculo-antthrush Formicariinae subfamily, or maintenance as a separate family is to be preferred depends on whether the true antpittas are closer to the tapaculos and true antbirds, or rather to the Pittasoma "gnatthrushes" and other gnateaters and the true antbirds. There are some, albeit very tentative, indications that the latter may indeed be the case, which would be reflected in the placement of the tapaculos as subfamily Rhinocryptinae, with the Formicariinae being restricted to the true antthrushes (Rice 2005a). Today, the tapaculos continue in the Rhinocryptidae until the systematics can be further defined.

Apparently not all tapaculo genera would have to be moved to the formicariids (Irestedt et al. 2002). As the type genus Rhinocrypta certainly would, any distinct genera (such as the peculiar crescent-chests) would need a new family name.

An alternative family name Pteroptochidae, has been used historically.[1]

Taxonomy of Scytalopus

The species-limits within the genus Scytalopus is among the most complex matters in Neotropical ornithology. They are highly cryptic, and identification using visual features often is impossible. Vocal and biochemical data is typically needed to clarify the taxonomic status of the various populations. Several new species have been described in recent years (e.g. S. stilesi and S. rodriguezi from Colombia). The Brazilian taxa are similarly complex with several recently described species and considerable confusion surrounding the use of the scientific name Scytalopus speluncae.

Additionally, still undescribed species are known to exist (e.g. the "Apurimac tapaculo" and "Millpo tapaculo"; both from Peru), while some species as currently defined actually may include several species (e.g. the southern population of the large-footed tapaculo may represent a yet undescribed species). The confusing situation is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that only ten species were recognized in this genus in 1970 (Krabbe & Schulenberg, 2003), while the figure now is more than four times as high.

Species list

Genera allied with antthrushes

Placement unresolved


  • Correa, Alejandro, Mpodozis, Jorge & Sallaberry, Michel. (2014): Chilean Rhinocryptidae (Avian):speciation. Impressum/Imprint OmniScriptum GmbH & CoKG. Verlag/publisher: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing. Printed in Germany. All right reserved Saarbrücken. ISBN 978-3-659-55015-7.
  • Correa, Alejandro (2009): Biological similarities between Chilean Tapaculos. Impressum/Imprint (nur für Deutschland/only for Germany) Publisher VDM Verlag.Printed in the USA. Printed in the UK. All right reserved Saarbrücken. ISBN 978-3-639-18137-1.
  • Irestedt, Martin; Fjeldså, Jon; Johansson, Ulf S. & Ericson, Per G.P. (2002): Systematic relationships and biogeography of the tracheophone suboscines (Aves: Passeriformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 23(3): 499–512. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00034-9 (HTML abstract)
  • Krabbe, N, and Schulenberg, T. (2003). Family Rhinocryptidae (Tapaculos). pp. 748–787 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Christie, D. eds. (2003). Handbook of Birds of the World. Vol. 8. Broadbills to Tapaculos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-50-4
  • Maurício, G, (2005). Taxonomy of the southern population in the Scytalopus speluncae group, with the description of a new species and remarks on the systematics and biogeography of the complex (Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Ararajuba. 13(1): 7-28.
  • Raposo, M., Stopiglia, R., Loskit, V., and Kirwin, G. (2006). The correct use of the name Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétriés, 1835), and the description of a new species of Brazilian tapaculo (Aves: Passeriformers: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa 1271: 37-56.
  • Rice, Nathan H. (2005a): Phylogenetic relationships of antpitta genera (Passeriformes: Formicariidae). Auk 122(2): 673-683. [English with Spanish abstract] DOI:10.1642/0004-8038(2005)122[0673:PROAGP]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
  • Rice, Nathan H. (2005b): Further Evidence for Paraphyly of the Formicariidae (Passeriformes). Condor 107(4): 910-915. [English with Spanish abstract] doi:10.1650/7696.1 PDF fulltext
  • Status of the members of Rhinocryptidae BirdLife International (2007).
  • Comitê Brasileiro de Registros Ornitológicos: List of Birds in Brazil


  1. ^ HBW vol 8, page 748
  2. ^ Placement here needs confirmation.

External links

Ash-colored tapaculo

The ash-colored tapaculo (Myornis senilis) is a tapaculo species. Placed in the monotypic genus Myornis, its affiliations are not well-determined; provisionally it is placed with the other tapaculos in the family Formicariidae.

It is found in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Bahia tapaculo

The Bahia tapaculo (Eleoscytalopus psychopompus) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is endemic to lowland Atlantic forests in Bahia, Brazil. Until recently, it was feared extinct, but has since been rediscovered and is now known from the municipalities of Ilhéus, Maraú, Taperoá, Valença. It remains highly threatened by habitat loss and is consequently considered endangered by BirdLife International and IUCN. Together with the closely related white-breasted tapaculo, it was formerly placed in the genus Scytalopus, but these two species are now known to be closer to the bristlefronts (genus Merulaxis).

Brasília tapaculo

The Brasília tapaculo (Scytalopus novacapitalis) is a species of bird in the family Rhinocryptidae.

It is endemic to Brazil.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

It is threatened by habitat loss.

Caracas tapaculo

The Caracas tapaculo (Scytalopus caracae) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family.

It is endemic to Venezuela.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Chucao tapaculo

The chucao tapaculo (Scelorchilus rubecula) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is found in central Chile and adjacent Argentina; it has also been spotted in the Magallanes Province. Its natural habitat is temperate forests. The diet of the chucao tapaculo is dominated by invertebrates and fruits. This bird show a pattern of aggressiveness and territoriality towards the other species of tapaculos in the forest of southern Chile. The chucao tapaculo seems vulnerable to the fragmentation of its habitat.

El Oro tapaculo

The Ecuadorian tapaculo or El Oro tapaculo (Scytalopus robbinsi) is a small passerine bird belonging to the genus Scytalopus, a genus of tapaculos. It is restricted to a small area in south-western Ecuador and was not described until 1997.

It is a small tapaculo, 11 centimetres long. The bill is black and fairly heavy. The plumage is grey with a brown nape and rump and brown barring on the flanks. The tail is blackish. The female's underparts are browner than those of the male. The song is a series of double-notes repeated for about a minute.The bird inhabits the undergrowth of humid forest between 700 and 1250 metres above sea-level on the Andean slope in El Oro Province, Guayas Province and Cañar Province and undoubtedly in the intervening Azuay Province. Its population is believed to be small and declining. It is threatened by the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat and is classified as an endangered species by the IUCN. Part of its range lies within the protected Buenaventura Reserve.

Magdalena tapaculo

The Magdalena tapaculo (Scytalopus rodriguezi), also known as the Upper Magdalena tapaculo, is a member of the tapaculos, a group of Neotropical birds. It was described as new to science in 2005.

It is a restricted-range endemic presently known only from two localities on the eastern slope of the Cordillera Central at the head of the Magdalena Valley, Colombia at 2000 m or more above sea-level. Its range is believed to be no greater than 170 km², and its population around 2,200 pairs; due to its recent description, no formal evaluation of its conservation status has taken place yet, however. It is found in humid forests with dense understorey.

The species scientific name honours José Vicente Rodriguez Mahecha, a Colombian conservationist.

The existence of this species was first suspected in 1986, when a tape-recording of the bird's song was made, but political instability in the region prevented a return visit until 2002-2003, when the species' existence was confirmed.

Marsh tapaculo

The marsh tapaculo (Scytalopus iraiensis) is a recently discovered passerine bird which belongs to the genus Scytalopus, a genus of tapaculos. It is also known as the wetland tapaculo or tall-grass wetland tapaculo. It is endemic to Brazil.

Mouse-coloured tapaculo

The mouse-coloured tapaculo or Serra do Mar tapaculo (Scytalopus speluncae) is a species of bird in the family Rhinocryptidae. It is endemic to humid highland forests in southeastern Brazil, where it ranges from southwestern Espírito Santo to northeastern Rio Grande do Sul. Most of its range is in the Serra do Mar, but it also occurs further inland in Paraná and Santa Catarina. Until 2005, the Planalto tapaculo was included in the mouse-coloured tapaculo.Here we follow SACC, but the taxonomy is extremely complex, and it is possible the correct scientific name of this relatively dark species is S. notorius, in which case the closely related paler species from the Espinhaço Mountains region would be S. speluncae.

Neblina tapaculo

The neblina tapaculo (Scytalopus altirostris) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is endemic to Peru.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Niels Krabbe

Niels Kaare Krabbe (born 1 July 1951) is an ornithologist and bird conservationist for many years based at the Vertebrate Department of the Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen and tutored by Jon Fjeldså. His research interests include various aspects of ornithology, especially bioacoustics, conservation, and systematics and altitudinal replacements of Scytalopus tapaculos. He has worked extensively in the Andes, especially Ecuador, and wrote the passerine section of Birds of the High Andes (1990) and the accounts of most Andean species in Threatened Birds of the Americas (1992). He has helped build up a large tissue collection in the Zoological Museum and has authored or coauthored several bioacoustic publications and peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Since 1998 he has worked with Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco on conservation of Ecuadorian birds, paying special attention to the pale-headed brush-finch (Atlapetes pallidiceps), for which he had searched for several years. The species was feared extinct, but he finally found a small population in 1998. Only 10–22 pairs remained, but owing to conservation efforts, it is now recuperating, with c. 100 pairs counted since 2009, when the reserve became saturated with territories.

Pale-bellied tapaculo

The pale-bellied tapaculo (Scytalopus griseicollis), also known as the matorral tapaculo or rufous-bellied tapaculo, is a species of bird in the family Rhinocryptidae. It is found in Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Perijá tapaculo

The Perijá tapaculo (Scytalopus perijanus) is a species of passerine bird in the family Rhinocryptidae (tapaculos). Endemic to the Serranía del Perijá mountain range on the Colombia–Venezuela border, the Perijá tapaculo is found at altitudes of 1,600–3,225 metres (5,200–10,600 feet). It measures 10 to 12 centimetres (3.9 to 4.7 inches), and its tail is around 40 mm (1.6 in) long. Specimens have long been stored in museums, but the species was only described in 2015 based on sixteen specimens found between July 2008 and February 2009. It is considered vulnerable.

Adults have neutral grey heads, brown necks, brown-sepia striped backs, and grey-white bellies, breasts, and throats. Males have some buff markings on their breasts, and less sharp brown spots on their napes than females. The Perijá tapaculo is a secretive bird and therefore difficult to observe; as a result its ecology is poorly known. It feeds on insects and reproduces between April and July. Its range is partially within Chamicero de Perijá Bird Reserve in Colombia and the Sierra de Perijá National Park in Venezuela.

Puna tapaculo

The puna tapaculo (Scytalopus simonsi) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is found in Bolivia and Peru.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.

Rufous-vented tapaculo

The rufous-vented tapaculo (Scytalopus femoralis) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family.

It is found in Peru. Note that the long-tailed tapaculo, (S. micropterus) is now considered a separate species.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Santa Marta tapaculo

The Santa Marta tapaculo (Scytalopus sanctaemartae) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is endemic to Colombia. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.


Scytalopus is a genus of small passerine birds belonging to the tapaculo group. They are found in South and Central America from Tierra del Fuego to Costa Rica, but are absent from the Amazon Basin. They inhabit dense vegetation at or near ground-level and are mainly found in mountainous regions, particularly the Andes. They can be very difficult to see as they run through the undergrowth in a mouse-like fashion.

Tacarcuna tapaculo

The Tacarcuna tapaculo (Scytalopus panamensis) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is found in Colombia and Panama.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is threatened by habitat loss.

White-breasted tapaculo

The white-breasted tapaculo (Eleoscytalopus indigoticus) is a species of bird in the Rhinocryptidae family. It is endemic to Atlantic forest in south-eastern Brazil. It is threatened by habitat loss. Together with the closely related Bahia tapaculo, it was formerly placed in the genus Scytalopus, but these two species are now known to be closer to the bristlefronts (genus Merulaxis).

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