Six subspecies currently are recognized, which fall into three groups (each of which may represent a separate species).
Resident Andean taxa:
1) Elaenia albiceps griseogularis Sclater 1858. Resident in the Andes from southwestern Colombia south to northwestern Peru. Similar to nominate albiceps, and not always distinguishable by plumage; averages paler in color on the upperparts, with less white in the crown, a shorter crest, and a less distinct eye ring.
2) Elaenia albiceps diversa Zimmer 1941. Resident in north central Peru. Similar to griseogularis, but the throat is whiter, the wing bars are less distinct, and there is more contrast between olive flanks and the white belly.
3) Elaenia albiceps urubambae Zimmer 1941. Resident in southeastern Peru (Cuzco). Paler above than nominate, with less prominent eye ring or pale lores, the wing bars are duller, the belly may have a pale yellow wash, and bill is slightly heavier.
4) Elaenia albiceps albiceps (d'Orbigny and Lafresnaye 1837). Resident from southeastern Peru (Puno) to south central Bolivia (Cochabamba).
Austral migrant taxon:
5) Elaenia albiceps chilensis Hellmayr 1927. Breeds from southern Bolivia, northern Chile and northern Argentina south to southern Chile and Argentina; most populations are migratory. Darker olive above, with whiter and more contrasting eye ring and lores, a whiter coronal stripe, narrower and more sharply defined wing bars, and paler, whiter underparts. This subspecies also often has a longer primary extension than other subspecies, with the 10th (outermost) primary longer than the 5th.
Intratropical migrant taxon:
6) Elaenia albiceps modesta Tschudi 1844. Breeds in western Peru and northwestern Chile; migratory. This is the most divergent subspecies. Plumage duller overall with a greatly reduced facial pattern (little or no eye ring, and lores showing little or no contrast) and duller, less distinct wing bars. Also, pale edgings on the inner remiges extend all the way to the base of the feather; in other subspecies, these bases are dusky, contrasting with the pale edgings farther out the remiges.