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Grallaria quitensis

Tawny Antpitta

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Grallariidae
  • Polytypic 3 Subspecies

Authors: Greeney, Harold F



Tawny Antpitta is a medium sized Grallaria, with the typical long legged, upright posture of the genus. It is a rather dull plumaged antpitta, lacking in strong field marks. The upperparts generally are dull olive brown, and the underparts are tawny, with indistinct white mottling.

Similar Species

Tawny Anptitta is much less skulking than most other Grallaria. In fact, its behavior alone, frequently running about and foraging in open habitats, is usually the best clue as to its identity (Ridgely and Tudor 1994, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). Rufous Antpitta (G. rufula) is the only other Grallaria that overlaps extensively with Tawny Antpitta in altitudinal range, but it is smaller, and is much more uniformly rufous or rufescent.


The vocalizations of Tawny Antpitta vary geographically. The following descriptions are taken from Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003):

The song of nominate quitensis is 0.9–1.3 seconds long, is delivered at intervals of 4–8 seconds, and consists of a series of 3 piercing notes at a frequency of 1.8–2 kHz. There is a slight pause after first (usually highest-pitched) note. There are also less common variants of this with only two 2 notes, or of 3 lower-pitched (1.4–1.5 kHz) notes, or with first the lowest of the three notes.

The song of subspecies atuensis is slightly higher-pitched (2–2.2 kHz), and has the last note drawn out with a strong upward inflection.

The song of alticola can be described as "pit-wheer perwheedit", with the first syllable accented.

The "perwheedit" portion also is sometimes given alone.

The calls of the three subspecies also are somewhat different, as described by Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003). That of quitensis, given at intervals of 1–3 seconds, is an explosive single down-slurred note, beginning with the first overtone the loudest and at a frequency of 4.5 kHz, and ending with the fundamental loudest note delivered at 1.5 kHz.

The call of atuensis is a longer "tree-eh", given at a frequency of 1.7–3 kHz. It rises first, with a treble quality, then falls.

The call of alticola is short, and onlt slightly descending.

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Tawny Antpitta can be heard at Macaulay Library, at xeno-canto, and at Internet Bird Collection.

Nonvocal Sounds

None documented.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description of the adult plumage refers to nominate quitensis; see also Geographic Variation:

Adult: Sexes similar. Lores pale; ocular region whitish. Upperparts generally olive brown, the crown and back with a grayish wash; rump browner, dull rufous to clay colored. Sides of the head rufous olive, mixed with blackish brown. Underparts generally tawny brown, with indistinct white mottling; center of belly whitish (description based on Krabbe and Schulenberg 2003).

Bare Parts

Iris: brown

Bill: black

Tarsi and toes: dark brownish or grayish


Total length: 16 cm (Schulenberg et al. 2007), 16 cm (alticola, Restall et al. 2006), 16-16.5 (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001), 16-18 cm (Krabbe and Schulenberg 2003, Ridgely and Tudor 1994), 17 cm (quitensis, Lesson 1844), 17 cm (Fjeldsa and Krabbe 1990), 18 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986), 18 cm (atuensis, Carriker 1933), 18 cm (quitensis, Restall et al. 2006).

Linear measurements:

wing length 93 mm; tail length 50 mm; bill length (exposed culmen) 21 mm; tarsus length 46 mm (n = 1 male, alticola, type specimen, Todd 1919)

wing length 87 mm; tail length 52 mm; tarsus length 40 mm, middle toe 28 mm (n = 1 male, atuensis, type specimen, Carriker 1933)

wing length, range 92-98 mm, mean 94 mm; tail length, range 48-58 mm, mean 53.4 mm; tarsus length, range 45-50 mm, mean 47.5 mm; middle toe range 30-33 mm, mean 31.7 mm (n = 11 males, quitensis, Carriker 1933)

wing length 87 mm; tail length 44 mm; bill length (culmen from base) 24 mm (n = 1 male, alticola, Olivares 1973)

Mass: males 62-78 g, females 58.5-81.2 g (Krabbe and Schulenberg 2003)
male, range 57-83 g, mean 66 g (n = 19); female, range 60-70 g, mean 64.7 g (n = 6) (combined series of quitensis and atuensis; Parker et al. 1985)


No specific information.

Geographic Variation

Three subspecies currently recognized. For such a drab, relatively unpatterned species, the three currently recognized subspecies of Tawny Antpitta are fairly well-defined. Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) point out that the three races also differ vocally from each other and may, in fact, represent three separate species.

alticola Todd 1919; type locality Lagunillas, Boyaca, Colombia.

This subspecies is restricted to the eastern Andes of Colombia.

Todd (1919) describes alticola as: "Above, including pileum, deep sepia brown, brightening into Dresden brown on the upper tail coverts; wings externally and tail like the back, the primaries usually somewhat paler; lores and sides of head dull buffy, the auriculars shaded with dusky; throat buffy white, deepening posteriorly and laterally into antimony yellow; rest of under surface buffy ochraceous, indistinctly mottled with whitish tips to the feathers; under wing-coverts bright ochraceous tawny". Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) note that alticola is smaller than nominate quitensis and has a smaller bill, is browner above, and has the underparts "extensively mottled with white". The white tips to the breast and belly feathers and overall more yellowish orange underparts make alticola a particularly distinctive subspecies.

quitensis Lesson, 1844; type from vicinity of Quito, Ecuador.

The nominate subspecies of Tawny Antpitta occurs from the Central Andes of Colombia southward to extreme northern Peru. Several years after Lesson (1844) described G. quitensis, de Lafresnaye (1847) described Grallaria monticola which, as pointed out by Cory and Hellmayr (1924), clearly is a junior synonym of quitensis. Prior to this, the name Grallaria monticola was widely used in the literature (Sclater 1858, 1890, Hartert 1898, Salvadori and Festa 1899).

See Detailed Description. Lesson’s (1844) rather brief description of the nominate subspecies in Latin is as follows: "Corpore brunnes suprà, rufo infrâ. Caudâ brevissimâ pedibus longis; uropygio rufo". His remarks in French point out how similar Tawny Antpitta is to Rufous Antpitta Grallaria rufula: "Cette Grallaria a beaucoup d'analogie avec celle nommée Rufula par M. de Lafresnaie. Son plumage est sur le corps d'un brun lavé de roussâtre tandis que le dessous du corps est varié de blanchâtre, de jaune d'ocre et de fauve vif. Cette dernière teinte est par plaques. Un léger rebord blanchâtre borde les plumes du front et une sorte e iache obarrondie et blanchâtre occupe l'espace qui sépare l'oeif du bec. Le croupion, ou plutôt les plumes tectrices supérieures de la queue sont d'un beau roux. Les ailes brun-ardoisé en dedans, sont en dehors de chaque penne d'un brun roussâtre. Le bec est brunâtre. Les tarses longs, robustes, sont brun-rougeâtre. Cet oiseau mesure 17 centimètres".

atuensis Carriker 1933; type locality Atuén, Amazonas, Peru, 1200 ft [= 3660 m].

Subspecies atuensis is endemic to the Central Andes of northern Peru in southern Amazonas and eastern La Libertad. Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) describe atuensis as overall darker, and "more distinctly mottled with white below". Carriker (1933) describes atuensis as follows, comparing it to a series of 23 skins of quitensis from various localities in Ecuador and with four skins of alticola from Colombia: "Similar to G. q. quitensis of Ecuador, but differs in the uniformlv darker coloration, both of the upper and lower parts, especially the latter, which are dark olive ochraceous, darker across the chest and buffy olive brown on flanks. The throat is clear cinnamon ochraceous, instead of whitish ochraceous, also the under tail coverts. The white markings on the under parts consist of short white tips on the feathers instead of white on the median portion, giving a more decided spotted appearance than in quitensis. The lores, narrow ocular ring and wide post-ocular stripe are deep cinnamon ochraceous instead of buffv white, while the ear coverts are the same color basally, but tipped with blackish. The bill and feet are much smaller than in quitensis, the bill thus resembling that of G. q. alticola of Colombia, while the short tarsi and weak feet are especially noticeable.”

Bond (1950), while examining Peruvian specimens of atuensis, remarked on their distinctiveness from other subspecies. "Although based on a single specimen this subspecies appears to be well characterized. It differs from the Ecuadorian race, of which I have seen over 50 specimens, by having the under parts, including the sides of the head, darker ochraceous. The white markings on the breast and abdomen are thus more conspicuous, and are in the form of spots with little tendency toward streaking, the white being confined to the tips of the feathers, except on a few about the center of the abdomen. The short tarsi (41 mm) and wings (91 mm) and short, slender bill (exposed culmen 19 mm) are also diagnostic features of atuensis".


The taxon saltuensis, currently treated as a race of Rufous Antpitta G. rufula, has been suggested to actually represent a subspecies of Tawny Anptitta (Krabbe and Schulenberg 2003). Based on general plumage and morphological characteristics, Tawny Antpitta falls within the subgenus Oropezus (Ridgway 1909, Lowery and O’Neill 1969). This group contains G. rufocinerea (Bicolored Antpitta), G. nuchalis (Chestnut-naped Antpitta), G. albigula (White-throated Antpitta), G. erythroleuca (Red-and-white Antpitta), G. erythrotis (Rufous-faced Antpitta), G. hypoleuca (White-bellied Antpitta), G. flavotincta (Yellow-breasted Antpitta), G. przewalskii (Rusty-tinged Antpitta), G. capitalis (Bay Antpitta), G. griseonucha (Gray-naped Antpitta), G. rufula (Rufous Antpitta), G. kaestneri (Cundinamarca Antpitta), G. urraoensis (Urrao Antpitta), and G. milleri (Brown-banded Antpitta). Within this, it seems likely that Tawny Antpitta has a close relationship with Rufous Antpitta, but its phylogenetic affinities have not been examined.

Recommended Citation

Greeney, Harold F. 2015. Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: