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7 Surprising Facts About Chestnut-tailed Antbirds

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird, also known as Sciaphylax hemimelaena, is a bird species that belongs to the Thamnophilidae family. These birds are generally found in the tropical forest regions of South America, specifically in the Amazon Basin and eastern parts of the continent.


Field Identification:

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a relatively small bird, measuring around 15 centimeters in length. The male bird has a black crown, nape, and upperparts, with a chestnut-colored tail.

Meanwhile, the female bird has a brown crown, nape, and upperparts, with a chestnut-colored tail. Both sexes have a broad white eyebrow and a distinctive white throat.

Similar Species:

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird can be easily identified from other antbird species by the chestnut-colored tail, white throat, and white eyebrow. However, it can be confused with the following species:


Black-throated Antbird – This species has a black throat instead of a white one. 2.

Ferruginous-backed Antbird – This species has a duller and more rusty-colored back. Plumages:

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird has two plumages:


Adult Plumage: As described above, the adult plumage is different for males and females. The chestnut-colored tail and white throat, however, are common to both.

2. Juvenile Plumage: Juveniles have a duller brown coloration and lack the white eyebrow.

They also have a shorter tail than adults. Molts:

Birds go through a process called molting, where they replace their old feathers with new ones.

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird has two molts:

1. Prebasic molt This molt occurs annually after the breeding season.

The bird will replace all their feathers one by one from head to toe. The prebasic molt ensures that the bird has fresh feathers for the upcoming breeding season.

2. Prealternate molt This molt occurs in-between breeding seasons.

The bird will replace its feathers in a specific order, with males doing so before females. The prealternate molt helps these birds increase their breeding success.

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird’s life revolves around the understory of the rainforest where they sneak and hop around the leaf-litter looking for prey. They can be hard to see, but their high-pitched whistle can be heard in their territory as they search for insects.

In conclusion, the Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a fascinating bird species that can be found in the tropical forests of South America. Their chestnut-colored tail and white throat make them stand out from other antbird species, and their molting process ensures that they have fresh feathers for the breeding season.

Although they can be hard to see, their distinctive call makes them easy to identify, making them a favorite among birdwatchers.

Systematics History

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird, or Sciaphylax hemimelaena, was first described by John Gould in 1855. It belongs to the Thamnophilidae family, which is known for its insectivorous bird species found primarily in tropical forests of Central and South America.

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is typically found in the understory of rainforests, and is known for its unique call and distinctive coloration.

Geographic Variation

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is found in a wide range of areas throughout South America, including the Amazon Basin, the Guianas, northeastern Brazil, and eastern Peru. These birds have a wide variety of habitats that they prefer, including primary forests, secondary forests, and plantations.

Despite this wide distribution, there is only minor geographic variation between individuals found in different regions.


There are two subspecies of the Chestnut-tailed Antbird, both of which have unique plumage characteristics:

1. Sciaphylax hemimelaena hemimelaena – This subspecies is found in the eastern regions of the Chestnut-tailed Antbird’s range, including Guyana, Venezuela, and Suriname.

This subspecies has a slightly brighter chestnut tail and dark throat. 2.

Sciaphylax hemimelaena castanea – This subspecies is found in the western regions of the Chestnut-tailed Antbird’s range, including Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This subspecies has a slightly darker chestnut-tail and white throat.

Related Species

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is closely related to other antbird species found in Central and South America. In particular, it shares a close relationship with the following species:


Rufous-throated Antbird – This species is similar to the Chestnut-tailed Antbird in its coloration and behavior. It is found in the same geographic region and prefers similar habitats.

2. White-browed Antbird – This species is also found in South America, and has similar coloration to the Chestnut-tailed Antbird.

However, it has a shorter tail and is found in different habitats.

Historical Changes to Distribution

There have been significant historical changes in the distribution of the Chestnut-tailed Antbird due to human activity. In particular, deforestation and other land use changes have had a major impact on the bird’s habitat and range.

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is classified as “Near-Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its population is declining. In the past, the Chestnut-tailed Antbird was found in a larger range of locations throughout South America.

However, deforestation for agriculture, logging, and other purposes has led to significant habitat loss. In addition, fragmentation of forest habitats has made it more difficult for these birds to find suitable breeding sites, food sources, and shelter from predators.

As human activity continues to impact the natural world, it is likely that the distribution of the Chestnut-tailed Antbird will continue to change. Unless steps are taken to protect its natural habitat, this species is at risk of further population decline and potential extinction.

Conservation efforts, such as reforestation and habitat protection, are necessary to ensure that these birds can continue to thrive in the wild. In conclusion, the Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a unique and fascinating bird species found in the tropical forests of South America.

It has only minor geographic variation between individuals, two subspecies with unique plumage characteristics, and is closely related to other antbird species found in Central and South America. However, human activity has had a major impact on the bird’s distribution, and conservation efforts will be necessary to protect its habitats and ensure that it can continue to thrive in the wild.


The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is typically found in humid tropical forests, specifically in the understory and mid-story layers, where it feeds on insects. These birds prefer dense foliage and are most commonly found in primary forests.

However, they have also adapted to secondary forests and plantations, where they can still find plenty of food and shelter in the abundant vegetation. They are known for their distinctive high-pitched whistles, which are often heard in their territories.

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are found in regions with high annual rainfall. They require moist soils and dense vegetation to breed successfully.

One of their preferred habitats is forest edges, which provide a transition zone from the forest canopy where the bird can nest and find food. These birds are not usually found in areas with a low canopy cover, open savanna, or grasslands as they require the dense, moist vegetation found in forest areas.

Movements and Migration

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a resident bird in its natural range and does not migrate or move far from their range area. These birds move according to the fluctuation of food and water resources in the area and are often seen in pairs or in small groups moving slowly on the forest floor.

They are agile climbers and have the ability to move rapidly through the forest. It is believed that some individuals form temporary, local movements throughout their range to exploit seasonal food sources.

Studies have shown that some birds may move to new territories in the territory of younger birds to consume insect breeding periods. They move from one place to another to find food and maintain a territory for themselves.

Living in closed habitats, such as rainforests, means Chestnut-tailed Antbirds do not travel far, instead exploiting the resources available in the same area. The movement of these birds is usually observed near breeding season when they look for mates and new territories for nesting.

It is still unclear whether these birds wander far from their territories or not. Very little research has been undertaken on their movements and migration.

Threats to

Habitat and Migration

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are at risk of habitat destruction due to deforestation, fragmentation, and other land-use changes brought about by human activities. The loss of habitat has a devastating impact on bird populations, as it destroys their nesting sites, food sources and preferred breeding grounds.

Furthermore, the degradation of forests, combined with hunting pressure and climate change, has caused habitat fragmentation which isolates populations of these birds making it difficult for them to move around leading to the risk of local extinction.

Climate change increasingly has the potential to severely impact birds like Chestnut-tailed Antbirds which require a specific combination of environmental factors to survive.

Changes in rainfall and temperature patterns could lead to habitat shrinkage for these birds, with a risk of more frequent and severe storms impacting the vegetation they depend on.

There is no doubt that conservation actions focused on habitat protection, bird-friendly land use practices, reforestation and land-use planning are critical to saving Chestnut-tailed Antbirds.

Even small improvements in forest management, such as leaving forest understory intact, can create habitat for birds to thrive.

In conclusion, Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are a fascinating bird species that primarily inhabit humid tropical forests, relying on dense foliage to survive.

These birds do not migrate but move within their range to exploit seasonal food sources and find new territories for nesting.

Habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities, climate change and habitat fragmentation are major threats to these birds.

Protecting their habitats and implementing sound conservation and land use practices are necessary for the survival of these beautiful creatures.

Diet and Foraging

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are insectivorous, and their diet primarily consists of small insects such as beetles, ants, spiders, and caterpillars. They forage on the forest floor, usually in pairs or in small groups.

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are known for their unique feeding movement, where they hop on each foot as they move forward, inspecting the leaf litter for prey. They have a ‘hawking’ and ‘pouncing’ technique that involves hopping from one place to another before leaping to grab insects.

These birds have a specialized tongue and beak that allow them to extract insects from crevices. They pick up bits of dried leaves and flick them aside to reach the hidden prey.

These birds are agile climbers, and their long talons provide them with a good grip as they move on trees in search of prey. They usually forage on the ground, but they can also be found at a higher level in the canopy, depending on the availability of food.


Chestnut-tailed Antbirds feed mainly on a variety of insects, which complement their diet with protein and other nutrients necessary for survival. They feed mainly on ants, beetles, spiders, and other small invertebrates.

These birds play an essential role in insect control and help balance the ecosystem. They also help regulate the population of insects that can be harmful to vegetation and crops.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are endothermic, warm-blooded organisms that maintain a relatively constant body temperature. They belong to the class Aves, which is known for high metabolic rates to support flight and other energetic activities.

The high metabolic rates of these birds also allow them to maintain a constant temperature, even in variable environmental conditions, such as changes in climate or altitude.

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds have a specialized gland located under their tail known as uropygial.

These birds produce a waxy substance that forms a waterproof coating on their feathers. The waxy substance makes airtight insulation that helps prevent the bird’s body temperature from dropping, which is essential in keeping them warm in an environment with cold temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds have a distinctive vocal behavior. The male and female birds have different whistling calls, primarily used to communicate and defend their territories.

Their vocalizations are high-pitched and often heard throughout the forest, even though they can be challenging to spot due to their camouflaged plumage.


Chestnut-tailed Antbirds communicate using a variety of sounds, including whistles, trills, and songs. The male bird has a higher-pitched whistle, which is often used to attract a mate.

The female bird, however, has a lower-pitched whistle, which sounds different from the male’s call. These whistles are often heard in series and can be used to communicate between individuals or groups of birds.

The birds also have harsh calls during aggressive encounters and while defending territory. Overall, the vocalizations of Chestnut-tailed Antbirds play an essential role in their social interactions and are an essential aspect of their behavior.

By using their whistles and calls, they can communicate with other birds in their group and defend their territories. Additionally, these birds play a vital role in controlling insect populations in the forest, contributing to the balancing of the ecosystem.

Protecting their habitats and natural environments is critical to ensuring that these birds continue to thrive in the wild.



Chestnut-tailed Antbirds have a unique locomotion technique which involves hopping on each foot as they move forward, inspecting the leaf litter for prey, known as ‘ground-sifting.’ These birds are also agile climbers and may quickly move through the forest understory, or hop up and down on a small branch to capture insects.

Self Maintenance

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds use their beaks and talons to clean and maintain their plumage and hygiene. Bathing is essential for the health of their feathers and helps insulate their body temperature.

They often bathe in shallow pools of water or use their bills to fling water onto their bodies. After bathing, they preen their feathers with their bills, ensuring that the feathers are in good condition, and remove any debris.

Agonistic Behavior

Agonistic behavior is displayed by the Chestnut-tailed Antbirds during territorial defense, with birds emitting high-pitched trills or giving off warning calls to keep other birds away. Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are primarily monogamous birds and are usually seen in pairs or small groups.

But when other birds invade their territories, they can be aggressive. During such encounters, Chestnut-tailed Antbirds will chase, flutter, or flap their wings to intimidate the intruder.

Sexual Behavior

Chestnut-tailed Antbirds usually have monogamous breeding systems with both male and the female birds participating in parental care. The courtship process involves males chasing after females while making high-pitched calls.

The female then leads the male to a suitable spot for nest building.


The breeding period for Chestnut-tailed Antbirds varies across their range, typically between November and February in Brazil, and August to December in Guyana. These birds build cup-shaped nests which are made of sticks and leaf bases, with a soft lining of moss, leaves, and fibers.

The nests are usually placed low on branches or on a tree stump, near the ground.

After courtship, it is usually the female who lays eggs, which are incubated by both the male and the female.

These birds usually lay two eggs, which take around two weeks to hatch. They are attended by both parents until they are old enough to leave the nest, which is usually within 12 to 14 days of hatching.

Demography and Populations

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a Near-Threatened species, and its populations are thought to be decreasing.

Habitat destruction and fragmentation continue to be major threats to the survival of these birds.

Climate change, illegal hunting, and the pet trade also pose a significant risk to these birds.

Conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the survival of Chestnut-tailed Antbirds.

These birds are thought to be important for the control of insect populations, which makes them an essential member of the ecosystem. Protected areas, sustainable forest management, and habitat restoration efforts are necessary for the conservation of these birds.

In conclusion, Chestnut-tailed Antbirds are known for their foraging and feeding techniques, which involve hopping and probing the leaf litter for prey. They are also agile climbers and move rapidly through the forest.

Harmful activities such as deforestation, fragmentation, and hunting continue to pose significant threats to the populations of Chestnut-tailed Antbirds. By understanding their behavior, we can better comprehend the need to conserve these unique bird species and promote their survival.

In conclusion, the Chestnut-tailed Antbird is a unique and fascinating bird species found in the tropical forests of South America. These birds have a distinctive coloration and behavior, which makes them popular among birdwatchers.

The Chestnut-tailed Antbird plays an essential role in balancing the ecosystem by controlling insect populations in their habitat. However, these birds face numerous threats, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change,

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