Three subspecies currently recognized: rosenbergi, harterti, and nominate rufopileatum.
Pittasoma rufopileatum rosenbergi: Originally described as Pittasoma rosenbergi Hellmayr 1911a; type locality Sipí, Chocó Department, western Colombia. This subspecies was named in honor of W.F.H. Rosenberg.
Endemic to the Chocó Department of western Colombia on the Pacific slope of the western Andes.
Pittasoma rufopileatum rosenbergi is overall similar to the nominate race but is generally duller. It differs from both sexes of the nominate race in being significantly smaller overall and lacking markings on the buffy underparts. Both sexes have rufous heads (as opposed to the rufous being confined to the crown as in nominate). Females of rosenbergi further differ from nominate in having the back browner, and the apical spots to the wing-coverts bright buff instead of white.
The following detailed description of the type specimen (male) is from Hellmayr (1911b): "Pileum and nape deep cinnamon-rufous; back and scapulars dull olive, more brownish on the rump, each feather broadly bordered with black on either side, giving the upper parts a striped appearance; some of the interscapular feathers white at the base; upper wing-coverts sepia-brown, washed with russet, especially on the outer webs, each feather with a small, but distinct, whitish apical spot, and with a distinct black margin round the tip; primary coverts uniform blackish brown; remiges blackish, with the outer web dull russet-brown; retrices dusky, the central ones washed with russet. Lores and broad superciliary stripe, reaching to the sides of the neck, uniform deep black; cheeks, subocular and malar region, ear-coverts, chin and throat ochraceous, rather deeper on the sides of the head; foreneck and sides of the breast and flanks dull olive-brownish; middle of the breast and abdomen uniform buffy white, this colour being separated from the ochraceous throat by the dull brown crescent of the foreneck; under tail-coverts hair-brown, edged with whitish; axillaries and under wing-coverts dusky brown, the under primary coverts tipped with white".
Original description of the male holotype in French from Hellmayr (1911a): "Piléum et nuque roux cannelle intense; dos etscapulaires d'un olive assombri, chaque plume, de deux côtés, bordée de noir ce qui donne à la surface supérieure du corps une apparence nettement striée ; quelquesunes des plumes interscapulaires blanches à la base ; couvertures supérieures des ailes brun sépia, quelque peu teintées de roussâtro au bord externe, chacune avec une petite tache apicale blanche, celle-ci entourée d'une fine bordure noire; couvertures primaires brun noirâtre uniforme; rémiges et rectrices noirâtres avec la barbe extérieure teintée de brun roussâtre. Lores ainsi qu'une large raie sourcilière, noir foncé; joues, région malaire, auriculaires, menton et gorge roux ocreux, cette teinte étant un peu plus foncée sur les côtés de la tête que sur la gorge; devant du cou et flancs olive brunâtre; milieu de la poitrine et abdomen couleur crème uniforme; souscaudales, axillaires et sous-alaires brun foncé, quelque peu variées de blanchâtre. Iris bi'un foncé, pieds et bec noirs".
Pittasoma rufopileatum harterti: Originally described as Pittasoma harterti Chapman 1917; type locality Barbacoas, Nariño Department, western Colombia. This subspecies was named in honor of Ernst Hartert.
Confined to the departments of Cauca and Nariño in southwestern Colombia on the Pacific slope of the western Andes.
Pittasoma rufopileatum harterti is somewhat intermediate between rosenbergi and nominate rufopileatum, with males variably spotted or barred with black, and the entire face rufous. As the Rufous-crowned Antpitta is rather variable in plumage overall, and no significant dispersal barriers separate harterti from the range of nearby rufopileatum, it has been suggested that harterti should be synonymized with the nominate subspecies (Krabbe and Schulenberg 2003).
Chapman (1917) describes the male of harterti (based on four specimens) as follows: "Crown and nape bright rufous-chestnut slightly paler laterally; lores and a broad superciliary extending to the nape black; back light brownish olive, slightly browner than in P. [rufopileatum] rosenbergi, the feathers widely margined with black; rump browner, unstriped; the feathers much elongated and 'fluffy'; tail raw umber; wing-quills black margined externally with Brussels brown, this color increasing in extent inwardly and occupying the entire outer web of the inner secondaries and both webs of the tertials which have a rounded buffy terminal shaft-spot, and a slightly blackish edging; primary coverts blackish, unmarked; remaining wing-coverts of much the same brown as the exposed surface of the wing, with conspicuous buffy whitish terminal spots occupying most of the end of the feather which is narrowly margined with black; under wing-coverts blackish with some mixture of rusty, those at the base of the outer primaries broadly tipped with white forming a conspicuous white patch; throat and sides of the head deep, clear orange-rufous somewhat richer than in P. [rufopileatum] rosenbergi, the feathers without any indication of spots as in P. [rufopileatum] rufopileatum, on three specimens, but with two basal concealed lateral black spots on one feather in one specimen; rest of the underparts of the same tone of color as the throat but less intense, especially medianly, the sides, flanks and tibiae brownish olive, the ventral region and under tail-coverts more buffy; in one of four males the underparts from the posterior margin of the throat to, and including the upper part of the tibiae and under tail-coverts, but excluding the thighs and flanks, are more or less regularly and evenly barred with black; in the remaining three males the bars are wanting in some places, and faint or but merely suggested by detached spots in others, no regularity being shown by their distribution except on the ventral region and under tail-coverts where they are present much as in the fully barred specimen; feet brownish black; maxilla black; mandible wholly black in the barred specimen; gonys terminally horn-color in the three comparatively unbarred specimens". In the same work, Chapman (1917) also describes the female (from two specimens) of harterti as follows: "Resembling the male but the lores blackish with a whitish supraloral stripe, the superciliary strongly streaked with ochraceous-rufous, the spots on wing-coverts more ochraceous, the under wing coverts and white patch at base of primaries tinged with rufous; the throat as in the male, the remainder of the underparts with but mere suggestions of broken bars much as in the least barred male".
Pittasoma rufopileatum rufopileatum: Originally described as Pittasoma rufopileatum Hartert 1901; type locality Bulún, Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Named for the species’ distinctive rufous crown (and face in ssp. harterti and rosenbergi), which immediately separates it from both races of Black-crowned Antpitta (Pittasoma michleri).
Endemic to northwestern Ecuador in the provinces of Pichincha and Esmeraldas.
The nominate subspecies is the only subspecies of Rufous-crowned Antpitta to have the bright rufous coloration on the head restricted to the crown. It differs from rosenbergi in having the underparts barred (stronger in males). Females of harterti also lack ventral barring, and males of harterti, although barred, have a generally buffier ground color below (rather than white).
Hartert (1901) describes the male of nominate rufopileatum as follows: "Bill blackish slate-colour, iris brown. Pileum bright rufous, edged with lighter rusty rnfous. Wide line from the base of the bill, through the eye to the side of the nape, black. Sides of head pale rufous, throat feathers rusty rufous, white at base, shaft partially black, tiny spots near tip and on lateral margin black. Under-surface barred black and white, becoming more olive-greyish-brown towards the sides and chest, flanks uniform brownish olive. Upperside pale olive, the feathers of the interscapulium widely margined with black. Remiges blackish-brown, exteriorly margined with rufous olive-brown. Wing-coverts with a buffy white tip and black border around the tip. Under wing-coverts deep brown, with two white patches. Thighs olive, with pale buff shaft-lines, and sometimes a little barred in front; feet dark bluish-slate". He further describes the female as: "Upperside like the adult male, the superciliary black stripe spotted with white along the shafts of the feathers. Under-surface bright rusty-buff, olive on the flanks and sides, sparsely spotted with black, uniform on throat and along the middle of the abdomen".