Solitaires (Myadestes) have rather long tails, short tarsi, and a short, broad bill, which often is brightly colored. Gray and brown are the predominant colors of the plumage of most species of solitaire. The Black-faced Solitaire is a slate-gray solitaire, with a distinct black forehead and face, and an orange bill and tarsi. It is about 16-18.5 cm in length, and 30-33 grams in weight. The Black-faced Solitaire has a fairly restricted range within Costa Rica and Panama.
The Black-faced Solitaire is the only species of Myadestes within its range, in Costa Rica and western Panama, and is unlikely to be confused with any other species in this region. Some earlier authors, however, have considered Black-faced Solitaire to be conspecific with two similar but allopatric species, the Varied Solitaire (Myadestes coloratus), and the Andean Solitaire (Myadestes ralloides) (e.g., Hellmayr 1934, Ripley 1964). The Varied Solitaire, which occurs in the highlands of extreme eastern Panama and adjacent northwestern Colombia, shares with Black-faced Solitaire a yellow-orange bill and a distinct black forehead and face. The Varied Solitaire also similarly has a very slate-gray head, chest, and pale belly. Varied Solitaire easily is distinguished, however, by the chestnut colored back and wings. The Andean Solitaire, which occurs in the Andes from Venezuela south to Bolivia, has a chestnut back, wings and tail, with a plain gray head, chest, and belly. The Andean Solitaire also is easy to distinguish from the Black-faced Solitaire because Andean does not have a distinct black forehead and face. Vocally, all three species are similar (Collar 2005).
The following description is based on Ridgway (1907) and Wetmore et al. (1984):
Adult: Sexes alike. Body slate-gray, slightly paler on underparts. Forecrown, chin, auriculars, and area around eye deep black. Wings black, except for gray edges to the bases of the tertials, to the outer webs of the secondaries, and to the inner webs of the primaries. Tail mostly black; outer web and distal end of the outer rectrix are brownish gray, and some of the longer rectrices have a small terminal white spot.
Juvenile: Dark sooty black, tips of feathers spotted with light tawny brown. These light markings are more extensive on the underparts.
The Black-faced Solitaire probably follows the Complex Basic Molt strategy. Very limited information on molts, mostly from Wolfe et al. (2009). Most body plumage is mostly in the preformative molt, but occasionally some juvenile body plumage is retained. Otherwise, birds in Formative plumage retain juvenile rectrices and primary and outer greater coverts, which contrast with the replaced inner greater coverts.
The Black-faced Solitaire has a deep dark brown iris, and lacks the orange eyering present on many thrushes. The medium-sized yellow-orange bill and yellow tarsi make identifying the solitaire easy in the dense forest.
Total length: 15.7-18.6 cm (Wetmore et al. 1984), 17 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989)
Linear measurements (from Wolfe et al. 2009, based on mist-net captures in the Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica:
Wing chord, males: 62-67 mm (n=13); females: 58-65 mm (n=6)
Tail length, males: 58-79 mm (n=13); females: 56-62 mm (n=6)
Mass: mean 31 g (n=2, males: 30.0, 32.6 g, Strauch 1977)