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10 Fascinating Facts About the Black Spinetail Bird

The Black Spinetail, scientifically referred to as the Telacanthura melanopygia, is one of the most interesting bird species you will come across. This small bird species is commonly referred to as a flycatcher due to its feeding behavior, and is exclusively found across the savannas and humid forest edges of South America.

This article aims to educate you on how to identify the Black Spinetail, its plumages, and lots more fascinating facts about this bird species.


Field Identification

The Black Spinetail has several unique features that make it easy to identify in the field. It has a short, square-shaped tail, with a small crest on top of its head.

It is small in size, approximately 10 cm long, with a dark, blackish-brown color. It also has a white throat and pale underparts, with a small white crescent-shaped patch above its bill.

Similar Species

One of the easily-confused bird species with the Black Spinetail is the White-crested Spadebill. This bird species has a longer tail and a white crescent-shaped patch above its bill that is more prominent than that of the Black Spinetail.

However, its underparts, unlike those of the Black Spinetail, are entirely white, with only a small streak running down the middle.


The Black Spinetail has two plumages, the breeding plumage and the non-breeding plumage.

The breeding plumage is characterized by a darker coloration, with the upperparts appearing glossy black, while the underparts are a dull brownish-black.

The wingtips are brownish, with feather edges that have pale tips.

The non-breeding plumage is distinguished from the breeding plumage by its pale brownish-black coloration, with the underparts appearing slightly paler.

The wingtips still have pale tips, while the wing coverts are somewhat fringed with brownish margins.


The Black Spinetail does not have a complete molt. Rather, it replaces some of its primary feathers in a sequential manner.

This means that the bird sheds and replaces a few feathers at a time, instead of the entire set all at once. The molting process of the Black Spinetail is not clear, but it is presumed to occur after the breeding season.


In conclusion, the Black Spinetail is an interesting bird species that is relatively easy to identify in the field. Its plumages are distinct from one another, and its unique molting behavior adds to its fascinating nature.

By learning about the Black Spinetail, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty of nature and the diversity of wildlife that surrounds us.

Systematics History

The Black Spinetail, Telacanthura melanopygia, falls under the family Tyrannidae, which includes over 400 bird species found mainly in the Americas. The taxonomic classification of the Black Spinetail has changed over time, with earlier studies grouping it with the Spadebills under the genus Platyrhynchus.

However, recent research has shown that the Black Spinetail is more closely related to the Tody-Tyrants, and it has been moved to its own monotypic genus Telacanthura.

Geographic Variation

The Black Spinetail is distributed across several different regions in South America, from Colombia and Venezuela in the north, to Bolivia and Argentina in the south. Due to differences in climate and habitat, there is some geographic variation in the physical characteristics of the Black Spinetail across its range.


There are five subspecies of the Black Spinetail recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These include T.

m. brasiliensis, T.

m. carabayae, T.

m. melanopygia, T.

m. nigrofasciata, and T.

m. noblei.

T. m.

brasiliensis is found mainly in eastern Brazil, and is characterized by its paler underparts compared to other subspecies. T.

m. carabayae is mostly found in the Andes of northern South America and has a brownish-grey coloration.

T. m.

melanopygia is found in central and eastern South America and is the nominate subspecies. It has dark brownish-black upperparts and underparts, with a prominent white crescent shape above the bill.

T. m.

nigrofasciata is mainly found in central and western South America and is slightly smaller than the other subspecies, with a paler coloration. T.

m. noblei is mainly restricted to the highlands of Peru and Bolivia and has a more pronounced crest on its head.

Related Species

The Black Spinetail is part of a larger group of bird species known as the tyrant flycatchers. These birds are characterized by their small size, insectivorous diets, and aggressive behavior.

Some closely related species to the Black Spinetail include the White-crested Spadebill, the Yellow-throated Spadebill, and the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the Black Spinetail has undergone significant changes over time. While it is still present in many locations across its range, it has experienced habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities such as deforestation and urbanization.

In northeastern Brazil, the Black Spinetail has undergone a range expansion, possibly due to the fragmentation of its habitat. The increased amount of farmland and secondary forests in the region may also have contributed to this expansion.

In contrast, the Black Spinetail has experienced a decline in its population size in parts of Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru. This is thought to be due to the degradation of its habitat, which includes humid forests, cerrado, and transitional forest regions.

Conservation efforts are being made to preserve the Black Spinetail and its habitat. The IUCN has listed the Black Spinetail as a species of Least Concern, which means that it is not currently considered threatened with extinction.

However, ongoing monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to ensure that this bird species continues to thrive in its natural habitat.


In conclusion, the Black Spinetail is a fascinating bird species that has undergone changes in its taxonomic classification, subspecies, and distribution over time. With ongoing conservation efforts, it is hoped that this amazing bird species will continue to thrive in the wild.

Understanding the geography, taxonomy, and history of the Black Spinetail is essential in the ongoing efforts to conserve this remarkable bird species.


The Black Spinetail is a bird species commonly found in a variety of habitats across South America, ranging from tropical forests, savannas, and forest edges to shrublands and abandoned areas with secondary growth. These habitats provide an excellent environment for the Black Spinetails feeding and breeding purposes.

They are commonly found in open woodlands, especially those dominated by thin trees or shrubs, but they also venture out to grassy or weedy clearings, which gives it an advantage of prey capture since it feeds on insects, primarily flies and beetles.

Movements and Migration

The Black Spinetail is considered a non-migratory bird species, meaning it does not cover long distances in search of food or nesting sites. However, they make local movements in response to environmental changes such as drought, fire, or human disturbance.

During unfavorable conditions, the birds move to areas of less vegetation, and during favorable periods, they make their way back to their breeding grounds. These local movements may be only a few kilometers in distance.

Breeding and Nesting

The breeding period of the Black Spinetail usually takes place between October to February, but it may vary depending on local availability and conditions. During this time, the Black Spinetail builds a cup-shaped nest from plant fibers and moss.

The nest is typically placed in a vertical fork of a shrub, small tree, or plant in an area with dense vegetation, providing good cover and protection for the eggs and young. The female Black Spinetail lays one to three creamy-white eggs with brown or reddish spots, which she incubates for about 13-14 days.

After hatching, both parents take turns in feeding the young with insects. The young grow quickly and fledge at around 14-15 days after hatching.

The parents remain close by, feeding the young for a few more days until they are independent.

Threats and Conservation

The Black Spinetail is not currently listed as threatened or endangered, but habitat loss and fragmentation remain a significant concern. Deforestation, logging, and agriculture pose a severe threat to the birds habitat, and with continued human expansion and reduction of habitat, their populations are susceptible to decline.

Road developments and urbanization are also significant factors that fragment and destroy the Black Spinetail’s habitat. It is important to ensure that law construction planning stages include measures for minimizing damage to bird habitats and incorporating continuous forested areas that will allow the birds to move.

Efforts are currently underway to protect the Black Spinetail and its habitat through conservation planning and management of protected areas. These measures aim to maintain and improve habitat connectivity for the bird to breed, forage, and take cover, ensuring that the Black Spinetail continues to thrive in the wild.


Overall, the Black Spinetail is a remarkable bird species that is well-adapted to various habitats found across South America. The species is non-migratory but will make localized movements in response to environmental changes.

The birds breeding and nesting habits are typical of many passerine bird species, with the female laying a clutch of one to three eggs in a cup-shaped nest made from plant fibers and moss. The young grow quickly and fledge after approximately two weeks.

Conservation efforts must continue to protect the Black Spinetail and its habitat. People and institutions can help through proper planning and management of protected areas, reducing habitat destruction and fragmentation, and ensuring that ecosystem management policies and practices are in place to maintain their populations.

Diet and Foraging


The Black Spinetail feeds by perching in low shrubs and trees and sallying out to capture insects in mid-air. They are mainly perch-and-pounce hunters, meaning they sit on a perch, wait for prey, then make a quick dash to capture it.

They usually return to the same perch after capturing prey and may take short flights before resuming their foraging behavior.


The Black Spinetail has a diet that consists almost entirely of insects. They feed primarily on flies and beetles, but they sometimes eat other arthropods, such as spiders and caterpillars.

They also occasionally eat fruit and seeds.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black Spinetail has a high metabolic rate, which allows it to maintain its body temperature in cold environments. High-altitude environments tend to be colder, and the bird’s high metabolic rate allows it to survive in such environments where other bird species might struggle.

The Black Spinetail possibly has a thermoregulatory behavior where they adjust their body temperature by reducing their metabolic rate at night to conserve energy. During the day, their high metabolic rate enables them to keep their body temperature optimal while searching for food.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Black Spinetail’s vocalizations are not commonly heard, but they are noticeable during their breeding season. The bird’s song is a series of short, high-pitched, staccato notes that are repeated in quick succession, forming a rapid trill.

The song has a distinctive tone, and it can easily be recognized. The Black Spinetail vocalizes during courtship, territorial defense, or as part of communication between mates.

They may also use vocalizations to help locate each other in dense vegetation. Vocalizations are a crucial part of the Black Spinetail’s breeding behavior.

Both males and females sing songs during the breeding season, with males singing more frequently than females. The songs are used to attract mates and deter rivals from entering their territory.

The Black Spinetail also uses calls during courtship and mate selection. These calls are softer and shorter than their songs and are used to reinforce social bonds between mates.


In conclusion, the Black Spinetail has an interesting feeding behavior where it perches and pounces on insects and has a diet consisting primarily of flies and beetles. Their metabolism is high, which allows the bird to have optimal body temperature in cold environments.

The Black Spinetail also has a distinctive vocalization behavior, where it uses songs and calls during courtship and territory defense. Conservation efforts must continue to protect the Black Spinetail and its habitat to ensure that this unique bird species continues to thrive.



The Black Spinetail’s locomotion is terrestrial and arboreal, utilizing its sharp claws for grasping or climbing on foliage or bark of trees. They also fly short distances and occasionally hover in the air to catch insects in flight.

When pursued, the bird will fly to a nearby perch or escape through like vegetation or low shrubs.


The Black Spinetail is an active bird species that requires regular maintenance of its feathers for insulation, to maintain streamlined flight, and for visual display for mate selection. The bird accomplishes this by preening, a process that it uses to remove dirt and parasites from its feathers.

Preening also helps to restore feather structure and position, which is essential for optimal insulation and streamline flight.

Agonistic Behavior

The Black Spinetail’s agonistic behavior involves rival males displaying or physically fighting for a territory. These displays are relatively short and may accompany vocalizations such as trilling or wing fluttering, which serve to establish social dominance.

Rival males will challenge each other, with high-pitched calls, and may engage with bill snapping and mock attacks when defending their territory.

Sexual Behavior

The Black Spinetail’s sexual behavior consists of various displays of visual, vocal, and physical behavior, with males often involved in visual or vocal displays for mate selection. The displays may include dancing and trilling from an elevated perch, leading to more aggressive behaviors intensity for establishing a territory.


The breeding behavior of the Black Spinetail tends to vary depending on geographic location, availability of food and nesting sites.

Breeding usually takes place between October and February in tropical savannas and humid forest edges.

During breeding season, males sing to establish their territory and attract females. When a female arrives, both the male and female work together to build a cup-shaped nest made from plant fibers and moss.

The female Black Spinetail lays one to three eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 13-14 days. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks, which are known to be altricial, and naked with eyes still shut.

The young birds fledge within 13-14 days and become independent two weeks after fledging.

Demography and Populations

The Black Spinetail is distributed across many different regions in South America, and its populations are stable. They are not considered to be threatened or endangered at the moment, but human activities, including habitat loss and fragmentation through deforestation and urbanization contribute to their decline.

Conservation measures are necessary to minimize habitat destruction and maintain connectivity and viability in the population.

Habitat restoration programs, limited pesticide use, and ecologically sustainable land use should be encouraged as a conservation measure.


In conclusion, the Black Spinetail’s behavior is intricately tied to its habitat, varying according to environmental conditions and availability of food and nesting sites. Locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, and sexual behaviors are essential attributes of the Black Spinetail’s life cycle.

Breeding and population growth depend on suitable habitat and food availability. Conserving their population provides insight into how their behaviors impact their ecology, thereby helping us to work in tandem with their ecosystem.

In conclusion, the Black Spinetail is a remarkable bird species with unique characteristics that make it a fascinating subject of study. The bird’s behavior, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic, sexual behavior, and breeding, is intricately linked to its habitat, and the effects of human activities on its populations highlight the need for conservation measures.

Understanding the Black Spinetail and its ecology will benefit not only the bird but also the entire ecosystem where it lives. Conservation efforts must continue to ensure that the Black Spinetail thrives in its natural habitat for generations to come.

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