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Poospiza alticola

Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thraupidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Huffstater, Kyle



Warbling-finches (Poospiza) are small to medium sized, slender, long-tailed finches; many species of warbling-finches are arboreal. Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch primarily is gray, rufous, and white. The upperparts are gray, with a dusky crown and gray sides the face, framing a broad white supercilium. The underparts are white or whitish, with rufous sides to the breast and rufous flanks.

Similar Species

No similar species occurs within the geographic range of Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch. Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch (Poospiza caesar) of south central Peru is larger, has more extensive rufous across the breast but gray flanks, and has rufous undertail coverts; Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch also is more terrestrial than is Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch. Collared Warbling-Finch (Poospiza hispaniolensis) is smaller than Plain-tailed, occurs at lower elevations, has white in the tail, and does not have rufous on the underparts. has similar facial markings and the coloring on the bell and undertail coverts.


The vocalizations of Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch are poorly known. A possible song is a quick series of raspy notes followed by a short twitter.

Other calls include "a slightly buzzy, rising zree note, often given rapidly in series [and] a sharp tip" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010).

Additional audio recordings of vocalizations of Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch can be heard at Macaulay Library and at xeno-canto.

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Fjeldså and Krabbe (1990) and on Jaramillo (2011):

Adult: Upperparts gray brown. Crown darker than back; sides of head blackish brown. Broad white supercilium. Wing coverts, remiges and rectrices narrowly edged with gray. Submoustachial stripe white, bordered laterally by a narrow gray brown lateral throat stripe. Underparts white or whitish; sides of throat and of breast rufous, flanks paler, closer to dull cinnamon.

Juvenile: "Dusky above and on throat and breast, darkest on head; distinct supercilium and moustache whitish; belly, flanks and vent buff, palest centrally"(Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990).

Bare Parts

Iris: brown, dark brown

Bill: maxilla black, mandible dusky or partially brownish orange

Tarsi and toes: dusky gray, brown

Bare parts color data from Jaramillo (2011) and from specimens in the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science.


Total length: 15 cm (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990), 16 cm (Ridgely and Tudor 2009, Jaramillo 2011)

Linear measurements: 

female (n = 1; Hellmayr 1938), wing length 74 mm; tail length 77 mm; bill 12 mm

Mass: 24 g (n =1, male; specimen in the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science)


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Geographic Variation



Described as Poospiza alticola by Salvin (1895), with a type locality of Huamachuco, 10,400 ft. [= 3170 m], Libertad, Peru.

The relationships within Poospiza are not fully resolved. Hellmayr (1938) suggested that alticola is related to Poospiza hypocondria (Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch). A phylogenetic survey of Poospiza, based on an analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence data, suggested that Poospiza is not monophyletic, and placed alticola in a clade with Poospiza erythrophrys (Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch), Poospiza torquata (Ringed Warbling-Finch), and Poospiza melanoleuca (Black-capped Warbling-Finch) (Lougheed et al. 2000). This survey included only 9 out of the 15 species of Poospiza, although hypochondria was sampled in this study, and was placed in a different clade (as sister to Poospiza caesar Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch). Shultz and Burns (2012) conducted a more comprehensive survey, with almost all species of Poospiza included, and using DNA sequence from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Shultz and Burns confirmed that Poospiza is not monophyletic. Their analysis places alticola in a clade with Poospiza cabanisi (Gray-throated Warbling-Finch), Poospiza erythrophrys, Poospiza melanoleuca (Black-capped Warbling-Finch), Poospiza cinerea (Cinereous Warbling-Finch), Poospiza torquata, and Hemispingus trifasciatus (Three-striped Hemispingus) (which is sister to Poospiza torquata).

As is implied by the English name ("warbling-finch"), Poospiza traditionally was classified in a family of finches, such as Fringillidae (Hellmayr 1938) or Emberizidae (Paynter 1970, Dickinson 2003). Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data, from both mitochondrial and nuclear genes, indicates however that Poospiza is embedded within Thraupidae (tanagers and allies) (Lougheed et al. 2000, Burns et al. 2002, 2003, Klicka et al. 2007). Species assigned to Poospiza are intermingled with species currently classified in the genera Hemispingus, Compsospiza, Thlypopsis, Pyrrhocoma, Urothraupis, Nephelornis, Donacospiza, and Cypsnagra (Burns et al. 2002, 2003, Klicka et al. 2007, Shultz and Burns 2012).

Recommended Citation

Huffstater, Kyle. 2012. Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch (Poospiza alticola), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: