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Ampelion rufaxilla

Chestnut-crested Cotinga

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

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S



Ampelion are medium sized, heavy set, crested cotingas with a relatively stout, gray bill. The most distinctive features of Chestnut-crested Cotinga are the blackish crown, chestnut throat and sides of the face, bushy chestnut crest, and yellow lower breast and belly, both of which are broadly streaked with blackish. The back and upper breast are olive gray. The wings are blackish, with contrasting chestnut wing coverts. 

Similar Species

Chestnut-crested Cotinga is distinctive and unlikely to be confused with any other species. Red-crested Cotinga (Ampelion rubrocristatus) is similar in size and shape, but typically occurs at higher elevations. Adult Red-crested Cotinga also primarily is dark gray, and so readily is distinguished from Chestnut-crested Cotinga. Juvenile Red-crested Cotinga is paler, streaked with dusky, and so superficially is more similar to Chestnut-crested Cotinga, but juvenile Red-crested Cotinga lacks the conspicuous chestnut of Chestnut-crested Cotinga, and has a white band across the tail.


The song of Chestnut-crested Cotinga is described as "a quiet, deep, nasal croak, often with a stuttered introduction: t't'ti'kreeh" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010), as "eh-eh-eh-rrrrreh" (Parker, in Snow 1982), and as "a dry, raspy, and nasal stuttered reh, r-r-r-r-r-réh" (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b).

Other vocalizations of Chestnut-crested Cotinga are described as "short reh notes" (Parker, in Snow 1982) and as "single nasal croaking notes" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 1982).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Chestnut-crested Cotinga can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

Hennessey (2004) reported audible wingbeats during the ascent of a flight display, and a "braking" noise from the wings during the descent; see Sexual Behavior.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description refers to nominate rufaxilla, and is based on Fjeldså and Krabbe (1990) and Kirwan and Green (2011):

Adult: Crown black; center of crown has a crest composed of elongated chestnut feathers. Back olive gray, with dusky streaks. Remiges and rectrices black or blackish brown; lesser and median wing coverts chestnut. Sides of the head, the nape, and the throat chestnut. Upper breast gray. Lower breast and belly yellow, broadly streaked with black, except on the center of the belly.

Juvenile: Undescribed.

Bare Parts

Iris: bright red

Bill: black distally; base blue gray

Tarsi and toes: dark olive or olive gray

Bare parts color data from Snow (1982).


Total length: 18.5 cm (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990), 20.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 23 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986)

Linear measurements (from Snow 1982; nominate rufaxilla):

male (n = 6)

wing length, mean 116.0 mm (range 114-120 mm)

tail length, mean 80.8 mm (range 80-84 mm)

culmen (from anterior edge of nares), mean 8.7 mm (range 8.4-9.2 mm)

tarsus, mean 21.7 mm (range 20.5-23.1 mm)

female (n = 1)

wing length, 114 mm

tail length, 80 mm

Mass: male, mean 75.5 g (range 71-77 g, n = 4, nominate rufaxilla; Snow 1982); female, mean 71.7 g (range 69-74 g, n = 3, nominate rufaxilla; Snow 1982).


Little information. There is little indication of marked seasonality of molt in Chestnut-crowned Cotinga (Snow 1982), although Kirwan and Green (2011) suggested that molt was initiated in Colombia in January-July, and in August-December in Peru. The male of a pair attending a nest in southern Peru in December "had fresh flight feathers and was in heavy body molt", and the accompanying female "had worn flight feathers and was in light body moult" (Snow 1982).

Geographic Variation

Two subspecies usually recognized, although Fjeldså and Krabbe (1990) and Kirwan and Green (2011) suggest that the northern subspecies may not be recognizable.

antioquiae (Chapman 1924); type locality Santa Elena, Antioquia, Colombia.

Occurs in the Andes of Colombia and in northern Ecuador (Chapman 1924, Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001a).

Similar to nominate rufaxilla, but "larger throughout, streaks below much wider and more numerous; chestnut areas averaging darker" (Chapman 1924: 8).

rufaxilla (Tschudi 1844); type locality Peru; restricted to Vitoc Valley, Junín, by Hellmayr 1929: 99.

Occurs from southern Ecuador to central Bolivia.

See Detailed Description.


Some earlier authors (e.g. Hellmayr 1929) classified this species in the genus Heliochera de Filippi 1847, but Ampelion Tschudi 1845 is an older name; rufaxilla is the type species of Ampelion (Snow 1979).

Koepcke inferred a close relationship between the genera ZaratornisDoliornis and Ampelion (Koepcke 1954). Bond (1956) proposed that all three genera should be united (as Ampelion). This merger was adopted by some authors (e.g., Snow 1973, 1979), but others continued to maintain Zaratornis (and Doliornis) as distinct (e.g., Meyer de Schauensee 1966).

Genetic data from a variety of sources, including protein electrophoresis (Lanyon and Lanyon 1989) and phylogenetic analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences (Ohlson et al. 2007, Tello et al. 2009), indicate that the Zaratornis, Ampelion, Doliornis, and Phytotoma form a clade. Since Phytotoma is internal in this clade (and Zaratornis at its base), one must either merge all into a single genus, or recognize a minimum of three genera (Zaratornis, Phytotoma, and Ampelion); most authorities accept the latter arrangement. Within this group, Ampelion and Doliornis are sister taxa (Ohlson et al. 2007, Tello et al. 2009).

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S. 2012. Chestnut-crested Cotinga (Ampelion rufaxilla), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: