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Lipaugus unirufus

Rufous Piha

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Tityridae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Haynes, Jamie-Ann E



Rufous Piha has bright reddish brown plumage, varying from reddish brown to cinnamon-brown, with slightly paler underparts (Skutch 1969). It is 22.9-24.1 cm in length, and weighs about 75 g.

Similar Species

The Rufous Piha is similar to the Rufous Mourner (Rhytipterna holerythra), but the piha is larger and stouter, and has a paler throat. The size and shape of the piha is similar to that of a thrush (Turdus) but the piha has a larger head and thicker bill (Stiles and Skutch 1989).


The vocalizations of Rufous Piha are very loud, and often are described as "explosive". Calls are made at long and unpredictable intervals, and sometimes are given in response to a sudden loud noise. Descriptions of the calls include "a shrill, assertive peeer or wheeeooo; a longer whee-er-wet or wheeoweet; a softer where-weet or pee-ha; [and] a heavy, metallic, rolling chrrrg, often in series" (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Females and nestlings may utter similar but weaker whistles (Skutch 1969).

Additional audio recordings of Rufous Piha can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

Rufous Piha is a large reddish brown to cinnamon-brown bird, with a moderately broad bill, and no distinctive plumage patterns (Skutch 1969, Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Adult: Sexes similar. Crown rufous, with moderately lighter shaft lines. Upperparts generally deep cinnamon-brown. Underparts buffy cinnamon, the breast darker and duller. Axillars, underwing coverts, and inner webs of remiges deep ochraceous buff. (Wetmore 1972). 

Hatchling: Covered in sparse gray down (Skutch 1969).

Bare Parts

Iris: dark brown

Bill: maxilla dusky gray, mandible dull buffy brown with gray tip.

Tarsi and toes: gray to brown, with greenish to grayish scutes.

Bare parts data from Wetmore (1972).


Total length: 22-24 cm (Wetmore 1972).

Linear measurements (from Wetmore 1972):

male, wing: 125.0-132.9 mm (n = 10, mean 128.8 mm)

female, wing: 121.6-128.0 mm (n= 10, mean 124.4 mm)

male, tail: 95.6-103.9 mm (n = 10, mean 100.8 mm)

female, tail: 93.8-104.2 mm (n = 10, mean 98.0 mm)

male, culmen (from base): 21.0-24.6 mm (n = 10, mean 22.7 mm)

female, culmen (from base): 22.3-24.4 mm (n = 10, mean 23.3 mm)

male, tarsus: 20.0-22.5 mm (n = 10, mean 21.1. mm)

female, tarsus: 20.4-22.4 mm (n = 10, mean 21.2 mm).

Mass: mean 83.7 g (range 79-87 g, n = 6 males; Snow 1982).


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Geographic Variation

Two subspecies recognized (Snow 1979):

unirufus Sclater 1859; type locality Playa Vicente, Oaxaca, Mexico

Occurs from southern Mexico south to northern Colombia. See Detailed Description.

castaneotinctus Hartert 1902; type locality Río Durango, Ecuador

Occurs in southwestern Colombia and northwestern Ecuador.

Compared to nominate unirufus, castaneotinctus is darker above (more chestnut cinnamon).


The genus Lipaugus (seven species) is in the Cotingidae family, part of the Tyrannida clade. Relationships within Lipaugus have not been determined.

Within Cotingidae, a phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data (from both nuclear and mitochondrial genes) indicated that Lipaugus is part of a core cotinga clade with four monophyletic groups whose relationships are not resolved. There is, however, strong support for a clade that groups Lipaugus fuscocinereus (Dusky Piha), L. unirufus and Tijuca atra (Black-and-gold Cotinga). These were only two species of Lipaugus included in this survey; the two Lipaugus did not form a distinct clade, but instead all three species grouped together in an unresolved polytomy. Although a lekking species, the Rufous Piha is sexually monomorphic, a derived characteristic for this genus. For this lekking genus, emphasis on male phenotypes has been replaced by an advancement in vocalizations (i.e. the powerful whistles for which pihas are known; Ohlson et al. 2007).

Recommended Citation

Haynes, Jamie-Ann E. 2012. Rufous Piha (Lipaugus unirufus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: