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Pithys castaneus

White-masked Antbird

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thamnophilidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Guy M. Kirwan



White-masked Antbird is a medium sized, relatively short tailed antbird. The plumage is almost entirely rufous, except that the crown and sides of the head are black, and there is a broad white "mask" that surrounds the eye and extends to the upper throat.

Similar Species

White-masked Antbird is highly distinctive, and is unlikely to be confused with any other species within its restricted geographic range. The most similar species, White-plumed Antbird (Pithys albifrons), is smaller, has slate gray back and wings, and has long white plumes on the face.


The song of White-masked Antbird is "a rising, whiny whistled huuuuuureee? with short, quiet, chiming tur'e'e notes often interspersed between whistles" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).


Calls of White-masked Antbird include a quiet, descending, mewed whew, a harsh, descending t'char and a sharp tchip! (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010). The chirr call is a low, barely descending, harsh grrah, which is lower pitched overall than the corresponding call  of other sympatric professional ant followers (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of White-masked Antbird can be heard at xeno-canto. For a more detailed descriptions of vocalizations, see Lane et al. (2006).

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

Adult: Sexes similar. Mostly bright rufous chestnut. Crown, nape, lower auriculars, and side of throat black. Lores, area surrounding eye, chin and center of throat white. (Description based on Zimmer and Isler 2003.)

Juvenile: Plumage generally "colder" brown, especially on the breast, vent, and center of the back. White face patch is more restricted, limited to the area between the eye and the gape and a longitudinal line down the center of the throat. The dark color of the head is more extensive, but is duller, sooty brown. (Description based on Lane et al. 2006.)

Bare Parts

Iris: brown or dark brown (adult); dark gray (juvenile)

Bill: maxilla blackish slate with silvery white tomia; mandible with silvery white tomia, blackish slate gonys and base of mandible

Tarsi and toes: brownish orange or ochre orange (adult); dirty yellow with a gray tinge (juvenile)

Bare parts color data from Lane et al. (2006).


Total length: 14 cm (Zimmer and Isler 2003)

Mensural data on White-masked Antbird and related species (Lane et al. 2006):


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Geographic Variation



Described as Pithys castanea by Berlioz (1938), based on a single specimen from Andoas, on the Pastaza River; the exact location of Andoas is in doubt, but the type locality probably is in Loreto, Peru. The species name now is spelled castaneus, following David and Gosselin (2008).

Despite searches for this species in the region of the type locality (Willis 1984), it was not seen again for decades, during which time some authors suggested that the holotype of castaneus was not a valid species, but instead represented a hybrid between Pithys albifrons (White-plumed Antbird) and some other, unspecified species of antbird (Sibley and Monroe 1990, Schulenberg and Stotz 1991, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). A population of Pithys castaneus finally was discovered in 2001, affirming its status as a species (Lane et al. 2006).

Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data, from both nuclear and mitochondrial genes, confirms that castaneus and albifrons are sister species (Brumfield et al. 2007). Pithys is a member of a radiation of obligate, ant following antbirds (Brumfield et al. 2007).

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S., and Guy M. Kirwan. 2012. White-masked Antbird (Pithys castaneus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: