Bird O'clock

Discover the Elusive Diamantina Tapaculo: The Ground-Dwelling Bird of Brazil’s Forest Floor

Located in Brazil, the Diamantina Tapaculo, scientifically known as Scytalopus diamantinensis, is a species of bird that is part of the passerine family. Despite being a smaller bird and fairly common in its natural habitat, it is not an easily spotted bird.

This shy bird is known to be elusive and hidden in foliage, making it a challenge for bird enthusiasts to spot. In this article, we will delve into the identification, plumages, and molts of this bird.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a small, dark gray bird that can grow up to 11cm in length. It has a relatively narrow tail, which trails behind it as it moves along the forest floor.

The bird’s head is slightly smaller than its body, and it has a short, pointed beak that is well-suited for cracking open insects. The bird’s feet are also relatively short and stubby, which helps to support its small size.

Although the bird has no particularly distinct features to aid its identification, its dark grayscale and careful posture is a giveaway.



The Diamantina Tapaculo is generally found in dense vegetation along riverbanks in Brazil’s Cerrado biome.

It is typically discovered by its call, which is a sharp single-note whistle. This bird has a distinctive walk when it is on the ground, and its movement is characterized by a jerky, hopping movement.

It prefers to remain on the ground and rarely flies, but when it does, it flies only short distances before perching on low branches.

Similar Species

The Diamantina Tapaculo has a cousin, the Minas Gerais Tapaculo, which appears to be its twin. It is any birder’s nightmare to misidentify them.

Both birds share the same body structure, size, and color, making it challenging to differentiate between the two. The main distinguishing characteristic between the two species is that the Minas Gerais Tapaculo has a paler rufescent (reddish-brown) colouration under its tail.


The Diamantina Tapaculo has only one plumage. The adult’s plumage (male or female) is mostly a dark slate-grey color, with a slightly darker head and a black throat.

Its underpart (belly) has a lighter hue and is a cool pale grey, a feature useful for distinguished them from the Minas Gerais Tapaculo.


Much like several other passerines, the Diamantina Tapaculo undergoes two molts every year. The first occurs after the breeding season, meaning post-June when the shortest days are experienced in the southern hemisphere.

The bird loses its feathers and re-grows them in succession, beginning with the wing and then the tail feathers. The second molt occurs further down the year in February.

The keysplashing will have lost and replaced its feathers, making them ready for breeding.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a beautiful bird that is well-suited for life in dense foliage on the forest floor. Although it can be challenging to spot, this bird is a true treasure for bird enthusiasts in Brazil.

The key to identifying and distinguishing the species from others is to listen for its sharp whistle and look for its unmistakable dark gray plumage. With that, birders and enthusiasts can identify and spot this beautiful Tapaculo.

Systematics History

The Diamantina Tapaculo was first described by a Brazilian ornithologist named Miguel Angelo Cerqueira in 1998. The bird’s name was derived from its habitat, the Diamantina Mountains, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Geographic Variation

Though the bird is widespread, its geographic variation is minimal. The bird has been observed and recorded in several forested locations in the Cerrado biome of Brazil.

The Cerrado biome is a vast tropical savanna ecoregion that is recognized as one of the world’s biological hotspots due to its spectacular biodiversity. The bird is mostly found at altitudes ranging from 700m to 1200m above sea level.

It prefers dense vegetation, particularly in the undergrowth of tropical forests.


Since its initial discovery, the Diamantina Tapaculo has been recognized and studied for its geographic variation. However, despite having widespread distribution, there are currently no known subspecies of this bird.

This may be attributed to the fact that the bird’s range is relatively small and geographically uniform.

Related Species

The Diamantina Tapaculo is a member of the genus Scytalopus, a Neotropical group of birds found throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas. The genus Scytalopus consists of over 50 species, and there are currently 25 Scytalopus species that have been identified in Brazil alone.

Although the Diamantina Tapaculo is closely related to these various Scytalopus species, there are several morphological differences between them. For example, some species such as the Planalto Tapaculo and the Bahia Tapaculo have a distinctly different plumage and vocalization from the Diamantina Tapaculo, making it easier to identify.

Others, such as the Bahia Tapaculo and the Serra do Mar Tapaculo, are restricted to different habitat types and may differ in behavior or body shape.

Historical Changes in Distribution

The distribution of the Diamantina Tapaculo has remained relatively stable since its discovery. However, there are indications that the bird may have undergone some historical changes in distribution.

For instance, there are reports that the bird may have previously extended further south than its current known range. In addition, some researchers argue that the bird may have previously inhabited other, now-habitat-restricted regions of Brazil.

Megafauna extinctions may have played a part in reducing the distribution of the Diamantina Tapaculo. The Pleistocene era saw the disappearance of several megafauna species like the Glyptodon and Diprotodon, who were responsible for several ecological functions in areas where present-day Diamantina Tapaculo now occupy.

The reduction of these species may have caused considerable changes in the environment where these birds inhabit.

Human activities present a modern threat to its conservation status.

Rapid loss of habitat due to vast logging activities, the development of agriculture, and mining are some of the factors that may negatively impact the Diamantina Tapaculo’s ability to survive and thrive. In conclusion, the Diamantina Tapaculo is a widespread, yet elusive species found in Brazil’s Cerrado biome.

Its geographic variation is minimal, and there are currently no known subspecies. It is related to several Scytalopus species and has undergone some historical changes in distribution.

These changes could be a result of environmental and human activities that threaten its ability to survive and thrive. Studying these birds and monitoring changes in their distribution is vital for their conservation.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is primarily found in the Cerrado biome of Brazil. This habitat is characterized by vast tropical savannas and dry forests, making it a unique ecosystem for biodiversity.

The bird thrives in dense vegetation, making its natural habitat the undergrowth of tropical forests. It typically inhabits forests along the river valleys and densely vegetated areas along the mountain ranges of the central Brazilian plateau.

The bird’s habitat is vulnerable to human encroachment and rapid deforestation, which is the primary threat to the species’ survival. Brazil’s rapid expansion of agricultural activities, mining, and urbanization has caused massive habitat loss, and as a result, Diamantina tapaculo populations have declined in recent years.

Movements and Migration

The Diamantina Tapaculo is considered a non-migratory bird, meaning it does not undertake long-distance movements to breed or forage. It moves only short distances along the forest floor to look for food or to establish territory.

It is not entirely known how far the bird can travel during the course of a day or the distance it can cover in a single flight, but since it is a non-migratory bird, ornithologists suspect its foraging distance to be minimal. Monitoring its daily movements and activities can be difficult, mainly due to the bird’s elusive nature and the dense vegetation that makes it challenging to track this bird.

However, several studies have shown that the Diamantina Tapaculo is highly territorial and maintains a small range throughout the year. The bird is known to sing in a monotonic whistle, and this Whistle is often utilized to establish territories.

Ornithologists suggest that the male Diamantina Tapaculo can cover a territory of about 0.38 hectares, while females have territories that are smaller than those of males. The bird’s non-migratory behavior is related to its food source mainly insects and small crustaceans which makes it dependent on its habitat for survival.

The Diamantina Tapaculo feeds solely on the ground, and this makes it limited to the forest floor for foraging.

Climate change, coupled with habitat loss, may affect the Diamantina Tapaculo’s foraging behavior and range.

The increase in temperature, for instance, may lead to longer dry seasons, thereby reducing the availability of food that the bird feasts on.

To protect the Diamantina Tapaculo population, conservationists need to understand its habitat requirements, breeding needs, and migration patterns.

Moreover, protecting the species’ habitat and reducing habitat fragmentation is critical in protecting the bird from extinction. Extensive surveys, monitoring, and research on the bird will provide key insights into its ecology, range distribution, and habitat use, thereby providing crucial data for policymaking on wildlife conservation in Brazil.


In summary, the Diamantina Tapaculo is a non-migratory bird that occupies the dense vegetation of Brazil’s Cerrado biome. The bird’s survival is dependent on forest floor habitats, as the bird feeds only on the ground, and forest fragmentation is a critical threat to the species’ survival.

Understanding its movements, range distribution, and breeding behaviors is vital in implementing effective conservation measures to protect this elusive bird species. Conserving the Cerrado biome and reducing land-use conflicts will play a critical role in safeguarding this bird’s habitat and contributing to the conservation of endemic species in the region.

Diet and Foraging

The Diamantina Tapaculo is an insectivorous bird, with its diet primarily consisting of insects and small invertebrates. The bird is adapted to forage mainly on the forest ground level, searching for its food in dense vegetation along the forest floor.

This behavior of foraging at ground level is attributed to the lack of arboreal factors that the Diamantina Tapaculo cannot access.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is not a picky eater and feeds on almost all insects found on the ground. The bird has a distinctive feeding method that involves moving the leaf litter with its beak in search of prey.

It uses its short beak to crack and extract small insects and crustaceans from leaves and the soil. Research shows that the diet of the Diamantina Tapaculo is varied and can include several ground-dwelling insects, including ants, beetles, spiders, and caterpillars.

This diversity in their diet ensures that the Diamantina Tapaculo can eat when encountered, even when their preferred food sources are scarce.


Due to its insectivorous nature, Diamantina Tapaculo has high metabolic and temperature regulatory requirements, which make it vulnerable to food scarcity as well as heat and cold stress. As a result, the bird has to maintain its metabolic rate through its diet to meet its high energy needs.

The bird’s diet is rich in insects that are high in protein and other essential nutrients needed to maintain optimum health levels. Insects are also rich in fat and are critical in sustaining the bird’s high metabolic rate and ability to regulate body temperature.

To avoid prolonged exposure to heat and maintain its internal body temperature, the bird is known to forage early morning and late evenings when the temperature levels are lower. This behavior can reduce the risk of heat stress and conserve their energy reserves.

Sounds and Vocal


The Diamantina Tapaculo has a distinctive vocalization that is rich in tone and complexity, consisting of a sharp, single-note whistle that is repeated several times. The bird uses vocalization to communicate with other birds and establish their territories.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a vocal bird, and the bird has been shown to produce a wide variety of vocalizations, including songs, calls, and alarm notes. The breeding male is known for its songs, which are more suited to attract potential mates and establish territories.

These songs have tonal variations and patterns that are unique to each bird, thereby aiding in individual recognition by their kind. The bird utilizes different vocalizations for various purposes.

For example, when communicating with other birds of their species, they use complex songs with tonal variations. At the same time, they produce short whistles to establish their territories.

Research shows that the function of the Diamantina Tapaculo’s vocalizations is vital to their daily activities. It assists in mate selection, territory establishment, and predator detection, making vocalization pivotal to their survival.


In conclusion, the Diamantina Tapaculo is a unique bird species that occupies a unique ecological niche in Brazil’s Cerrado biome. The bird is insectivorous, and its diet meets its metabolic and thermoregulation requirements.

The bird utilizes sound as a primary communication tool, and its vocalization is critical to its survival, primarily for mate selection, territory defense, and predator detection. It is essential to the conservation of the species to monitor the bird’s behavior, ecology, and vocalization to aid in implementing effective conservation measures.

The conservation of the Diamantina Tapaculo is crucial in maintaining healthy ecosystem functions in Brazil’s Cerrado biome and helps to preserve the continent’s precious biodiversity.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a ground-dwelling bird, and its locomotion is characterized by hopping movements when foraging. It prefers to remain on the ground, rarely flying except for short bursts to escape potential predators.

Although it remains hidden in foliage, its movement is noticeable for a bouncing gait that is typical of most passerines.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a clean bird, and much of their time is dedicated to self-maintenance. The bird will spend considerable amounts of time preening and rubbing its beak on branch perches, allowing for the removal of excess keratin or other contaminants.

Often, they will do sunbathing as a method of controlling ecto-parasites and reducing the risk of exposure to pathogenic microorganisms.



Agonistic behavior is significant in the Diamantina Tapaculo’s survival strategy.

To protect their territory, they express antagonism against intruders by vocalizing and, at times, displaying warning behaviors to scare them away. Sexual


During the breeding season, the Diamantina Tapaculo’s behavior changes.

Males demonstrate their fitness and suitability as mates by singing and performing courtship displays. The courtship display is simple, predominantly showing the male doing hopping movements in different directions while raising and lowering their tails erectly.


Studies have shown that the Diamantina Tapaculo breeds from October through February, the rainy season in Brazil. They construct nests in dense vegetation, normally at ground level.

Nests are generally composed of leaves, twigs, and moss, bound together by spider webs and lined with finer plant material.

The female lays between one and two eggs per brood, and both sexes participate in incubation, with males primarily incubating the eggs during the night.

Incubation takes approximately 18 days, and the chicks usually fledge between around 16 to 17 days after hatching.

Demography and Populations

The Diamantina Tapaculo’s population has been challenging to estimate. This is due to the bird’s secretive nature, and their preference for dense vegetation makes it challenging to survey their numbers.

However, population size estimates indicate that their numbers are undoubtedly below their natural population size. They are listed as a Near Threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with a declining population trend, indicating that the bird’s population is continuing to decrease significantly.

Human activities such as habitat destruction, human-induced wildfires, and the fragmentation of their habitats are responsible for the Diamantina Tapaculo’s population decline. If these activities persist, their populations may further decline to the point of extinction.

It is essential to employ comprehensive monitoring and conservation measures that address both human-induced threats to the bird and critical habitat protection. Conserving these birds and their habitat is crucial for preserving the unique ecosystem functions they contribute to and ensuring the maintenance of their ecosystem services that benefit humans.


The Diamantina Tapaculo is a fascinating bird species that occupies an important ecological niche in Brazil’s Cerrado biome. The bird’s behavior is notable for its ground-dwelling nature, hopping movements, clean habits, and agonistic and sexual behaviors.

Its breeding season is during the rainy season, and the

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