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Discover the Secrets of Black Bushbirds: From Plumage to Migrations

These birds are also known as “miniature blackbirds” or “tiny crows” and they are native to the forest regions of Central and South America. In this article, we will explore the details about the Black Bushbird, including their identification, the different plumages, and the molts that they go through.


Black Bushbirds are small with an average length of around 12 cm (5 inches) and weigh around 12-15 grams. These birds have entirely black-colored feathers with a short and slightly curved beak.

They are known for having a stout body, and their wings are short and rounded. Field Identification:

The easiest way to identify Black Bushbirds in the field is by their black color and short wingspan.

They are agile and fast-moving birds that flit around in the understory of the forest. They have a unique call that is a mix of whistles and trills, and this call is more commonly heard than their physical sightings.

Similar Species:

Black Bushbirds are part of the Neotropical ovenbird family, which includes a range of small black birds. Two of the species which are often confused with Black Bushbirds are the Gray-crowned Flycatcher and the Sooty-headed Tyrannulet.

Both of these species have a short and fat bill, as the Black Bushbird does, but they have a higher-pitched voice, fainter call, and a different wing shape. Plumages In terms of plumages, Black Bushbirds can be divided into juveniles and adults.

The plumage changes between these stages are not significant. Juvenile Black Bushbirds have an entirely dark bill and black eyes.

After about a month, they shed their downy feathers and develop adult feathers. During this plumage stage, the uropygial gland, which is a gland on the base of the tail, begins to become more active.

Adult Black Bushbirds have jet-black feathers, black eyes, and a slight purple tint to their wings. They have a unique shiny satin-like finish that makes their feathers appear to be glossy.

The adult male has a slight dusting of white feathers under their flanks in their breeding plumage, but this is barely noticeable. Molts:

Black Bushbirds molt twice a year – once in the breeding season and once in the non-breeding season.

Molts occur through a process where the birds shed and replace their feathers. It helps in maintaining the health of their feathers, as well as maintaining their ability to fly and insulate their bodies.

Molting begins after the breeding season and is completed by the start of Fall migration. The non-breeding season molt starts in early spring and continues through to early summer.

Molting is a crucial process when it comes to survival and ensures that the birds are ready for their migration or breeding season.

In conclusion, Black Bushbirds are remarkable birds that have unique physical characteristics, plumage, and molting patterns.

Understanding these features will help to differentiate these tiny black birds from other species that may look similar in the field. Knowing the details about Black Bushbirds will allow enthusiasts to recognize and appreciate these beautiful creatures as they explore the forests of Central and South America.

Systematics History:

The Black Bushbird, or Neoctantes niger, is a striking bird that belongs to the Tyrannidae family. Initially, it was classified in the genus Myiobius.

However, in 2013, after examination of the molecular phylogenetic relationships within the Tyrannidae family, it was transferred to the genus Neoctantes. Phylogenetic analysis of DNA from Black Bushbirds showed that they were closely related to other species in the family Tyrannidae, including the Chat-Tyrant.

This finding led to the reshuffling of the South American tyrannid tribes, and the creation of a new tribe, the Chat-Tyrant complex. Geographic Variation:

Geographic variations of Black Bushbirds can be observed in different parts of their range.

Compared to the Central American populations, the South American populations are generally larger with broader, less triangular bills. Subspecies:

Currently, 4 subspecies of the Black Bushbird are recognized based on differences in morphology and geographic location:


N. niger phelpsi: It is found in northwestern Mexico and has a slightly darker plumage than other subspecies.

2. N.

niger atratus: This subspecies is commonly found in northern Colombia down to western Ecuador. It has a more extensive bill and a more rounded forehead.

3. N.

niger niger: This subspecies is found in central and eastern Colombia, Venezuela, and the Guianas. It has a long bill, a darker black head, and a paler underbelly than the other subspecies.

4. N.

niger taylori: It is found in the western Amazon and has a broader bill and longer wings than the other subspecies. Related Species:

Black Bushbirds are part of the Chat-Tyrant complex tribe, which encompasses six other genera, including Ochthoeca, Aglaeactis, and Hymenops.

Genetic studies show that the Chat-Tyrant complex is a monophyletic group that shares a common ancestor, which implies that they evolved from a single ancestral species. Historical Changes to Distribution:

The Black Bushbird is a resident and has a relatively stable distribution in the lowland forests of Central and South America, from eastern Honduras and northern Nicaragua, through Panama, western Venezuela, Trinidad, and Tobago, to the Guianas.

However, their range has changed over time due to various factors such as habitat loss, climate change, and natural events. Studies have shown that the distribution of Black Bushbirds’ range fragmented between 22,000 to 5600 years BP, corresponding to periods of temperature and precipitation changes.

This fragmentation has led to the evolution of genetically distinct populations. Furthermore, in the last 20 years, there have been isolated records of Black Bushbirds in areas outside their usual distribution range, which may indicate that they are expanding their range.

Scientists have also found evidence of a decline in the density and distribution of Black Bushbirds in their natural habitat due to habitat destruction. Deforestation, agricultural activities, oil exploration, and severe droughts have destroyed their forest habitats, decreasing their populations’ size and leading to a decrease in their range.

In conclusion, Black Bushbirds are small birds with a unique black color and characteristic glossy feathers. They belong to the Tyrannidae family, and new classification has shown their relation to other species in the Chat-Tyrant complex tribe.

They exhibit geographic variation and can be found in 4 different subspecies. Their distribution range has fluctuated over time due to various factors, including climate changes and human activity.

Scientists have found that their populations have declined in recent years due to habitat destruction and other human activities. Protecting their habitat is essential for their survival, and understanding their ecology is crucial in conservation efforts.


The Black Bushbird is a forest bird that primarily inhabits the understory of mature and secondary lowland rainforests. These birds prefer a humid and warm climate, and they can be found in the valleys and lower slopes of the Andes in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia.

They are also found in the montane rainforests of the Cordillera del Condor in southeastern Ecuador. In Trinidad and Tobago, they can be seen in evergreen and deciduous forest types, particularly in moist areas characterized by the presence of bamboos.

Movements and Migration:

Black Bushbirds are primarily sedentary birds and are not known for making long-distance migrations. However, the bird’s movement and migration patterns are not well-documented due to their elusive nature, coupled with the time-consuming process of capturing, banding, and recapturing these tiny birds without causing harm to them.

Based on limited information about their migration and movement patterns, it is known that some populations of Black Bushbirds exhibit altitudinal migration. A study by Morton et al.

(2015) reported that populations of Black Bushbirds from the Andes region in Ecuador move to lower elevations during the non-breeding season. Additionally, the scattered records of Black Bushbirds in areas outside of their primary range may suggest a nomadic lifestyle, a behavior shown by some other tyrannid species such as the Olive-striped Flycatcher.

However, further studies are needed to clarify this. Another notable behavior observed among Black Bushbirds involves local movements.

These birds move between primary and secondary forests within their home ranges in response to changing environmental conditions and food availability. During the breeding season, they can become territorial and may defend their foraging areas against other birds.

In Trinidad and Tobago, observations indicate that Black Bushbirds congregate in areas where fruit-bearing trees such as fig and nutmeg trees are abundant. This suggests that food availability plays a crucial role in their distribution and local movements.

In conclusion, Black Bushbirds are primarily sedentary birds that are found in lowland rainforests, and their distribution and movement are influenced by environmental factors such as food availability and habitat suitability. Researchers need to undertake more detailed studies to understand the bird’s complete migration patterns and movements.

Consequently, this will provide valuable information to assist with the conservation efforts of these birds, which often face numerous endangerment issues due to habitat loss and degradation. Diet and Foraging:


Black Bushbirds are primarily insectivores and forage mainly on insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates.

They forage by gleaning or picking insects off leaves and branches in the understory of forests. Diet:

In addition to insects, fruit is also known to form a substantial part of the Black Bushbirds’ diet.

Larger populations of Black Bushbirds, such as those found in Trinidad and Tobago, have a larger proportion of their diet coming from fruits. They also consume plant nectar and occasionally drink sap.

Seed predation has also been observed in some areas. Study shows that Black Bushbirds often forage in areas with differing vegetation types, which offer more prevalence of insects.

They show a preference for foraging on trees that produce high quantities of foliage, such as Cecropia spp, Inga spp, and Sloanea spp. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Black Bushbirds are endothermic animals, which means that they regulate their body temperature metabolically.

Their body temperature is maintained at a relatively constant level of around 40 degrees Celsius. They do this by regulating their metabolic rate, which increases when the ambient temperature is cooler, and decreases when it is warmer.

The Black Bushbird is also known to use behavioral mechanisms to regulate its body temperature. They bask in the sun and fluff their feathers, which helps trap a layer of air to provide insulation, as well as evaporative cooling.

Other behaviors include panting and gular fluttering, which helps them release heat through their beak and mouth. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


Black Bushbirds are a shy and generally elusive bird species.

However, they are vocal, and their songs consist of whistles, trills, and chatters. They primarily vocalize during the breeding season to establish territories and attract mates.

They may also vocalize in response to perceived threats such as predators. The songs of the Black Bushbirds are relatively complex, and male birds sing for prolonged periods to establish their territorial boundaries.

Females also produce vocalizations; however, they are relatively less pronounced than that of their male counterparts. Male Black Bushbirds have been observed in audiovisual playback experiments, showing a response rate to conspecific recorded songs, which confirms their capacity to recognize their own species songs.

The songs of the Black Bushbird vary from place to place, but the basic song structure remains consistent, consisting of high-pitched trills and notes that resemble the sound of a bicycle bell. In conclusion, the Black Bushbirds are primarily insectivores that feed on small invertebrates and green fruits.

They also regulate their body temperature metabolically and through behavioral mechanisms. They are vocal birds, with a complex and characteristic song that varies from place to place.

Understanding the ecology of Black Bushbirds, their foraging and vocal behavior patterns, and the importance of these behaviors is crucial for their conservation. Furthermore, it is essential to document their behaviors to protect them from habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation that threaten their populations’ abundance.



Black Bushbirds are agile and acrobatic birds. They navigate through their forest habitat using quick hopping and jumping, and often hang upside down while foraging on the underside of leaves.

They also use wing-flicking and tail-flicking movements to communicate with each other and ward off rivals and predators. Self Maintenance:

Black Bushbirds maintain their feathers by preening, which is the act of straightening and smoothing the feathers.

Preening removes dirt, excess oil, and parasites. They also keep their feathers in top condition by sunbathing and waterproofing.

In addition, these birds also bathe in water, which keeps their feathers clean. Agonistic Behavior:

Agonistic behavior includes behaviors such as aggressive displays and interactions between individuals of the same species.

During the breeding season, males become territorial and defend their territory against other males. These displays start with the male bird perching at the treetop, lifting their wings in a vertical position, and singing loudly.

If another bird enters the territory, an aggressive encounter may result, in which the birds will face each other, open their beaks and twitch their tails. Sexual Behavior:

Black Bushbirds are monogamous and form stable pairs that remain together for the breeding season.

Courtship behavior involves the male bird performing aerial displays and singing to attract a female. After courtship, the female chooses a nesting site, typically located in a low branch or sapling in the understory of the forest, where they then construct the nest.


The breeding season for Black Bushbirds varies depending on their location. In Trinidad and Tobago, it occurs from March to September, while in Colombia, it occurs from June to December.

The breeding season is usually concurrent with the rainy season, which provides suitable environmental conditions conducive to successful nesting. The female constructs the nest, and it is made up of several layers, including moss, lichen, plant fibers, and rootlets, and is lined with grass and feathers.

The eggs are beige and spotted with brown and are incubated by the female for around two weeks. Chicks hatch with a downy coat of light gray to brown feathers and are fed by both parents.

The chicks grow quickly and fledge after around 12 days. Demography and Populations:

The population size of Black Bushbirds is currently unknown, but their population is believed to be declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

The birds have a large range, occurring in lowland forests of Central and South America, and are listed as being of Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Various conservation efforts are being undertaken to protect the Black Bushbirds.

One such effort is the development of ecotourism, educating communities about the importance of the conservation of these birds, and promoting sustainable practices that promote the recovery and conservation of their habitat. In conclusion, Black Bushbirds exhibit a range of behaviors, including agile and acrobatic movements, self-maintenance, aggressiveness, and monogamous courtship behavior.

Their breeding season is determined by environmental conditions that provide suitable nesting grounds for chicks to develop. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activity have decimated the natural habitat of the Black Bushbirds and led to a decline in their populations.

Therefore, conservation efforts are crucial to preserve the species and their ecological significance. In conclusion, this article has provided detailed insights into the life of Black Bushbirds, including their identification, plumage, molts, geographic variation, and related species.

It has also discussed the bird’s diet, foraging behavior, and how they regulate their metabolic rate. We have explored the significance of their vocalizations, mating behaviors, and the process of breeding and hatching chicks.

Finally, we have discussed the effects of human activity on their populations and the importance of conservation efforts. Understanding the ecology of Black Bushbirds is essential for their preservation and to protect them from the various endangerment factors they face.

By studying these tiny creatures, we can learn more about the complex and interconnected ecosystem patterns that are prevalent in our worlds rainforests.

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