Ocellated Antbird Phaenostictus mcleannani

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thamnophilidae
  • Polytypic: 3 subspecies
  • Authors: Hope Batcheller



Ocellated Antbirds are particularly adept at clinging to thin, vertical stems. Their feet and legs are strong, and their toes are capable of wrapping around thin perches. When moving between perches, birds generally hop and flutter, rarely moving more than 20 m at a time. Their flight appears slow, and birds occasionally glide during longer flights. Upon landing, birds spread their wings as they approach the perch. The tail is occasionally flicked while perched, and appears to drag in flight.

Antbirds foraging around an army ant swarm maintain a dominance hierarchy. Ocellated Antbirds preside over the smaller antbirds, frequently displacing them from preferred perches near the front of the ant swarm (Willis 1973, Willis and Oniki 1978, Touchton 2011). However, there is also a dominance hierarchy among conspecifics foraging at a swarm. Submissive behaviors include wing fluttering, gaping, and whining/chittering vocalizations. Displays of dominance include spreading wings and tail, ruffling feathers, and erect posture (Willis 1973).


Like most other ant-following birds, Ocellated Antbirds do not maintain exclusive foraging territories. Rather, each antbird pair visits multiple ant swarms per day, where they are co-attended by one or two other antbird pairs (Willis 1973, Chaves-Campos 2009). These feeding ranges may be up to 50 hectares in size. However, birds maintain a smaller territory for roosting and feeding; these areas are roughly 6 hectares (J. Chaves-Campos 2007, unpublished data).

Sexual Behavior

Pairs are monogamous and mate for life. Males display via the loud song, but the main courtship activity is pair feeding, in which the male delivers prey items to the female. Females allow copulation after several repeated courtship feedings (Willis 1973).

Social and interspecific behavior

Often, many birds are present at feeding aggregations around army ant swarms. In addition to Ocellated Antbirds, there are frequently several other obligate and facultative army-ant-following species in attendance. These birds have occasionally been reported to move between ant swarms together, and may glean information from each other regarding the location of active ant swarms (Willis 1973, Chaves-Campos 2003, Chaves-Campos 2011). At the very least, Ocellated Antbirds travel together in pairs and family groups (Willis 1973); this may also help offer young birds protection from severe competition with unrelated adults.


Ocellated Antbirds exhibit three main responses to predators: freezing with keening calls, fleeing and tail flicking ("panicking") with chipping calls, and mobbing with chirring calls (Willis 1973). Freezing is generally exhibited in response to distant danger, whereas tail flicking in given in response to closer danger. Mobbing is generally reserved for large terrestrial animals, such as humans (Willis 1973).

Recommended Citation

Batcheller, H. (2012). Ocellated Antbird (Phaenostictus mcleannani), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.oceant1.01