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Picumnus castelnau

Plain-breasted Piculet

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Picidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Hope Batcheller



Piculets (Picumnus) are very small, short-tailed, short-billed woodpeckers. Plain-breasted Piculet is grayish olive above, and the underparts are dull white or pale yellowish white. The crown of the male is black, although most of the crown feathers have broad red tips; the crown of the female is entirely black.

Similar Species

Throughout most of its range, Plain-breasted Piculet is distinctive and is unlikely to be confused with any piculet species. It is broadly sympatric with Bar-breasted Piculet (Picumnus aurifrons), but Bar-breasted Piculet is more olive above and yellower below, is distinctly barred on the breast, is strongly striped on the belly, its crown has small white spots, and it is more associated with terra firme forest.

Plain-breasted Piculet also is similar to Fine-barred Piculet (Picumnus subtilis); these two species are not known to overlap, but their geographic ranges may meet, and in indeed one specimen of a suspected hybrid between the two has been reported. Fine-barred differs from Plain-breasted by having white spots on nape (and, in the female, on entire crown), yellower underparts, narrow gray barring on breast, and by its indistinct barring on the back.


The song of Plain-breasted Piculet is similar to that of many other species of Picumnus, a "high-pitched, rapid, falling trill: tree'e'e'e'e'e'e" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Additional audio recordings of Plain-breasted Piculet can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

Like other species of woodpeckers, the foraging actions of Plain-breasted Piculet sometimes produce soft tapping sounds.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Winkler et al. (1995) and on direct examination of specimens in the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science:

Adult male: Crown black, feathers tipped red. Sides of crown and nape whitish, faintly barred or speckled with black. Lores and nasal tufts white or buffy white. Auriculars light brown, vermiculated gray and whitish. Upperparts grayish olive. Wings brown, wing coverts and secondaries edged greenish yellow. Rectrices black, inner webs of inner pair and of three outer pairs white. Underparts dull yellowish white.

Adult female: Similar to male, but crown entirely black.

Juvenile: Similar to adult female, but "duller, with stronger hint of barring above, faint barring below" (Winkler and Christie 2002; see also Short 1982).

Bare Parts

Iris: brown

Bill: black; base of mandible blue-gray

Tarsi and toes: greenish yellow, bluish gray

Bare parts color data from specimens in the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and Field Museum of Natural History.


Total length: 8-9 cm (Winkler et al. 1995, Winkler and Christie 2002), 9–10 cm (Schulenberg et al. 2010)

Linear measurements (from Short 1982 and Winkler et al. 1995): 

wing length, 48.5-53.7 mm

tail length, 25 mm

bill length, 13 mm

Mass: female, 11.4 g (n = 1; Remsen 1977); 11-12 g (Winkler et al. 1995)



Geographic Variation



Described as Picumnus castelnau by Malherbe 1862. The type locality is "Sarayacou", which usually is reported as Sarayacu, Ecuador (e.g, Peters 1948, Short 1982, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001), but the specimen was collected during the Castelnau and Deville expedition (Malherbe 1862); consequently, "Sarayacou" clearly refers to the Sarayacu in Peru, on the Río Ucayali (see also Taczanowski 1886).

The affinities of castelnau are not known. This species usually is considered to be closely related to Fine-barred Piculet (Picumnus subtilis) (e.g., Short 1982). Stager (1968) suggested, however, that subtilis may be more closely related to the "spot-crowned piculets" than to castelnau, which he considered to be related to Picumnus fuscus (Rusty-necked Piculet). On the other hand, one specimen from the upper Río Ucayali that was identified by Stager (1968) as a male subtilis was believed by Short (1982: 93) to be a hybrid between the two ("if not an aberrant castelnau"). There are other specimens of undoubted subtilis from this site (Santa Rosa), although no specimens of undoubted castelnau have been collected there.

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Hope Batcheller. 2012. Plain-breasted Piculet (Picumnus castelnau), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: