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Lipaugus vociferans

Screaming Piha

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Tityridae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Suzuki, Ian, Natsumi Fearnside, Wendy Tori, and Jose I. Pareja



Lipaugus pihas are large, dull colored passerines. Screaming Piha is a typical member of the genus; it is visually unobtrusive, but its piercing, distinctive call sets it apart. Both sexes are thrush like in appearance, but with a longer tail, shorter tarsi, and a broader bill than a thrush. Screaming Pihas are uniformly gray, although they are slightly paler on the belly and duskier on the tail.

Similar Species

Screaming Piha is broadly sympatric with Grayish Mourner (Rhytipterna simplex), and these two species frequently are syntopic. Both are gray, long tailed birds and so superficially are very similar. They are best distinguised by voice. The mourner also is significantly smaller than the piha, has a smaller, thinner bill, is more uniformly gray, and has reddish brown (not gray or gray brown) irides. The mourner also frequently associates with mixed species flocks, whereas the piha rarely if ever joins flocks.

Dusky Piha (Lipaugus fuscocinereus) also resembles Screaming Piha, but is much larger and is restricted to montane forests of the Andes; Dusky and Screaming pihas rarely if ever overlap geographically.


Screaming Piha is famous for its characteristic qui, qui, yo call, which is audible through up to 400 m of rainforest (Snow 1961). This call is preceded by 2-3 preparatory groo notes which are made during inhalation, and less audible. Variously described as cri-cri-o, pi-pi-yo, or qui-qui-yo, the vocalizations of the Screaming Piha are well-studied in comparison to its other characteristics.

The sound pressure level of the song of Screaming Piha, at a distance of 1 m, is 111.5 dB ± 1.3 (n = 29); "translated for human ears, this between 120-140 phons, a value of loudness between 'discomfort' and 'pain' " (Nemeth 2004).

The song of the Screaming Piha is believed to be innate rather than learned (Oliviera 2007), although individual variation exists within leks. Fitzsimmons et. al. (2008) reported that individual songs bear lek signatures, but Kroodsma (2011) disputed their methods.

Vocal array
B.K. Snow (1961) observed a repeated wee-oo call made during the morning and evening. She observed no corresponding body movement like that of the main song, but the call was equally as loud. Other vocalizations are described as "loud mewing TOWW notes, often in a series, and various random piercing squeaks, whistles, and moans" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Screaming Pihas sing throughout the year (Snow 1982).

Daily Pattern
During B.K. Snow’s (1961) observations of Screaming Piha, a male was found to spend 77% of his time calling from 06:45 through 17:15. Before and after this calling period, wee-oo calls were exchanged, which Snow (1961) inferred was to establish contact between individuals that had been separated by silence. Occasional silent periods, which typically last from 5-10 min, were observed throughout the day. Snow assumed that the bird was foraging during this time, as the individual disappeared from view into the canopy.

Places of vocalizing
Screaming Piha typically vocalizes in the understory and midstory, from perches that are 6-16 meters above the ground. Between calls the piha moves between many different branches within its territory, with no particular preference for any branch (Snow 1961). Similar to bellbirds (Procnias), Snow (1961) observed male pihas moving to lower branches when excited; presumably a female was in view of the male but not the researchers.

Repertoire and delivery of songs
An abrupt change in posture accompanies this vocal display. During the groo tones, the male leans forward, and then violently tips backwards during each qui syllable of the much louder qui, qui, y-o portion of the song. While calling, a small crest is raised (Snow 1982).

Individual males coordinate their songs with their immediate neighbors, alternating such that their songs do not overlap. Snow (1961) noted that this took significant coordination, as the “preparation” time for each song is approximately as long as the song itself. When excited, songs could be heard at a rate of 12 per minute, but 2-3 per minute was much more common.

Social context and presumed function
The male’s song serves to define territorial boundaries and also functions as the Screaming Piha’s lekking display (Snow 1982).

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

Nonvocal Sounds

None described.

Detailed Description (appearance)

Adult: Sexes similar. The following description is based on Kirwan and Green (2011): Generally gray; remiges, greater wing coverts, and rectrices browner or duskier. Underparts are paler than the upperparts, and are palest on the throat.

Juvenile: Similar to the adult, but has cinnamon rufous wing coverts and tips to rectrices (Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Bare Parts

Iris: brown, gray, grayish brown

Bill: black, or maxilla black, mandible dusky with a pinkish dusky base

Tarsi and toes: black, dark olive, gray green, dark brown, dark gray

Bare parts color descriptions from Haverschmidt (1968), Snow (1982), Willard et al. (1991), and from specimens in The Field Museum.


Total length: 24–26 cm (Schulenberg et al. 2010), 24.5-25.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2009), 25 cm (Hilty 2003)

Linear measurements (from Snow 1982):

male (n = 10; Belém, Brazil):

wing length, mean 120.6 mm (range 118-123 mm)

tail length, mean 106.0 mm (range 101-110 mm)

tarsus length, mean 21.8 mm (range 20.5-22 mm)

culmen length, mean 15.6 mm (range 14.5-16.5 mm)

female (n = 10; Belém, Brazil):

wing length, mean 116.6 mm (range 112-123 mm)

tail lenth, mean 102.6 mm (range 95-105 mm)

tarsus length, mean 21.8 mm (range 21-22.5 mm)

culmen length, mean 15.9 mm (range 14.5-17 mm)

Mass: male (n = 5, Suriname), mean 72.6 g (range 71-74 g); male (n = 7,  Peru), mean 81.9 g (range 77-85 g); male (n =2, Bolivia), 80 g, 83.4 g

female (n = 5, Surimane), mean 71.8 g (68-74 g); female (n = 5, Peru), mean 82.6 (range 78-87 g)

Mass data from Snow (1982).


Little information. Molt is seasonal in northern South America (Venezuela, Suriname, and Guyana; males initiate molt from February-May), and in eastern Brazil (where males initiate molt September-December), but there is little seasonality in the center of the range of the species (Snow 1982).

Geographic Variation

Monotypic. Generally, southern populations in Amazonia (in Peru and Bolivia) are larger than populations farther north and east, but most authorities do not recognize on this basis (Kirwan and Green 2011).


Screaming Piha has a complicated nomenclatural history. This species first was described by Vieillot in 1817 as Ampelis cinerea, but this name is preoccupied by Ampelis cinerea Latham 1790 (a synonym of Xipholena punicea, Pompadour Cotinga). For many years (e.g. Hellmayr 1929), this species was known as Lipaugus cineraceus, based on Vieillot 1822, but Gyldenstolpe (1951) pointed out that the oldest available name is Muscicapa vociferans Wied 1820. The genus Lipaugus was erected by Boie 1828; vociferans is the type species of Lipaugus (Hellmayr 1929, Snow 1979).

The genus Lipaugus contains seven species, but relationships within Lipaugus have not been determined. Lipaugus vociferans often is considered to be closely related to Lipaugus unirufus (Rufous Piha; e.g. Snow 1979).

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 (Ohlson et al. 2007). There is, however, strong support for a clade that groups Lipaugus fuscocinereus (Dusky Piha), Lipaugus 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. 

Recommended Citation

Suzuki, Ian, Natsumi Fearnside, Wendy Tori, and Jose I. Pareja. 2012. Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: