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Fascinating Facts About the Black-throated Antshrike: From Unique Plumage to Aggressive Behaviors!

The Black-throated Antshrike, scientifically known as Frederickena viridis, is a striking bird species that belongs to the Thamnophilidae family, found throughout the South and Central Americas. These birds are renowned for their unique plumage, which is characterized by a black throat and white breast, making them easy to spot in the wild.

In this article, we will explore the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Black-throated Antshrike, providing a comprehensive overview of this fascinating bird species.


Field Identification

The Black-throated Antshrike is easily identified due to its unique plumage. The male has a black throat, white breast, and rufous wings, while the female has a rufous back and wing coverts with a black tail and wings.

They have a curved bill, which is black in color and a small crest on top of their head. One of the easiest ways to identify the Black-throated Antshrike in the field is by their sound.

These birds are known for their whistling, loudsongs that can be heard from a distance. The pitch of the song is high, and the notes are relatively clear.

During the breeding season, males sing to attract females and defend their territories.

Similar Species

Black-throated Antshrikes have a few similar species within their range, which can cause confusion for birdwatchers. One of these species is the Mouse-colored Antshrike, which can be identified by its brownish-gray back and wing coverts.

Another similar species is the Barred Antshrike, which is significantly larger and has a bar pattern on its back and wings.


Black-throated Antshrikes undergo two molts per year- a basic molt and an alternate molt. The basic molt occurs after the breeding season when birds replace their feathers for new ones.

During this molt, they replace their flight feathers, which are important for flying long distances. In contrast, the alternate molt takes place before the breeding season, during which they replace their feathers with brighter and more colorful plumage.

During the breeding season, male Black-throated Antshrikes exhibit aggressive behaviors and display their prominent white breasts, black throats, and rufous wings to attract females. Female birds usually lay two eggs, which hatch into chicks that are fed and cared for by both parents until they are capable of fending for themselves.

In non-breeding season, both males and females have muted colors, and old feathers may not have been replaced.


The Black-throated Antshrike is a striking bird species that birdwatchers easily identify due to its unique plumage and song. They belong to the Thamnophilidae family and are widely distributed across South and Central America.

The male’s black throat, white breast, and rufous wings make it an easy bird to spot amongst the lush vegetation. While they have a few similar species in their range, their distinctive appearance and calls make them easy to identify.

Understanding their plumage and molting patterns is an essential aspect of the physical attributes of this species, especially for bird enthusiasts.

Systematics History

The Black-throated Antshrike (Frederickena viridis) was first described by Johann Baptist von Spix in 1825, who named it the Thamnophilus viridis. William Swainson later transferred it to the genus Frederickena.

Geographic Variation

Black-throated Antshrikes have a wide range from southern Mexico to north-central Argentina, encompassing lowland, subtropical and tropical forests. The species exhibits regional variation, and its geographic variation is essential in identifying its subspecies, which are confined to distinct geographic areas.


There are four subspecies recognized within the Black-throated Antshrike: F. v.

aurita in Mexico, F. v.

virginis in Central America, F. v.

viridis in northern South America, and F. v.

peruviana in western South America. The Mexican subspecies, F.

v. aurita, has a smaller bill than other subspecies and is a darker shade of green.

The Central American subspecies, F. v.

virginis, has a broad white patch on their wings, which is absent in other subspecies. The subspecies F.

v. viridis, which is found as far as southern Venezuela and Guyana, has a greenish-yellow edge to its wing.

The western South American subspecies, F. v.

peruviana, has a more muted wing pattern and a smaller bill.

Related Species

The Thamnophilidae family, to which the Black-throated Antshrike belongs, comprises more than 200 species and encompasses all antshrikes found in the Neotropics. The antshrikes closest relatives are the antwrens and antvireos.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Historical changes have influenced the Black-throated Antshrike’s distribution, particularly due to cyclic and sporadic climatic changes. During the mid-Pleistocene era, 125,000 years ago, the distribution of the Black-throated Antshrike was wider than today.

It was found within dry forest habitats, which had more extended reaches during that time. In the late Pleistocene era, ten thousand years ago, the geographic range of its habitat in the northern area of its distribution shifted.

This was due to the impact of the last ice age, which resulted in environmental changes, including cooler and drier climactic conditions. The combination of this phenomenon forced avian communities to abandon formerly suitable areas and move to more favorable locations seeking a better habitat.

The Black-throated Antshrikes distribution has also been influenced by human activities. For example, its presence in Brazil’s southeastern region was initially attributed to the destruction of Atlantic Forest, which resulted in marginal landscapes becoming more common and thus facilitating the increase in some species of northeastern Brazil and southeast Atlantic Forest.

In northern South America, the species’ distribution appears to have been hampered by the Andes mountain range, which poses a barrier to antshrikes’ ability to move between forest remnants. In the Andes, the distribution of the Black-throated Antshrike is restricted to regions located at an altitude of less than 900 meters, as the areas above this altitude remain inhospitable to antshrikes.

Humans have also impacted the Black-throated Antshrikes distribution through urbanization, logging, and agricultural activities, which have resulted in habitat fragmentation. Their habitat is limited to large forest reserves found in various parts of southern Mexico and northern Central America, such as the Yucatan Peninsula’s Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in southern Mexico.


The Black-throated Antshrike exhibits regional variation, which is essential in identifying its subspecies. Its geographic range spans from southern Mexico to north-central Argentina, covering lowland, subtropical, and tropical forests.

Historical and contemporary factors have influenced their distribution and range, warranting its conservation. It is essential to understand the species’ biology, systematics history, subspecies, and distribution changes to develop conservation strategies for the species.


The Black-throated Antshrike is native to the Neotropical region and occupies a wide range of habitats, including lowland tropical forests, semi-deciduous forests, and gallery forests. They are also found in scrubby secondary growth, wooded savannahs and rarely in parks, gardens, and plantations.

In general, they prefer areas with a dense understory, where they can easily forage and hide from predators. In Mexico, Black-throated Antshrikes inhabit low elevations primarily around the Yucatan Peninsula’s scrub forests and over the country’s eastern lowlands.

They are found in Nicaragua on the damp Atlantic side and remnant forests in the Nicaraguan Depression. In Costa Rica, they reside in dense and humid secondary forests and woodlands, where a tight canopy creates a moist understory.

They prefer areas with towering trees with shrubby vegetation.

Movements and Migration

Black-throated Antshrikes are considered sedentary and generally do not show significant movements and migrations. However, their movements are sometimes influenced by their food needs, breeding, or climate events.

During breeding seasons, males aggressively defend their territories and feed their mates. They remain within their territories throughout the breeding period and are less active.

In general, after the breeding season, bird activity rises as food becomes limited. During this period, they forage over large areas, making them typical of this species.

Black-throated Antshrikes can locally disperse in response to changes in vegetation or climate, with some individuals moving tens of kilometers. Their movements can also be influenced by forest quality and fragmentation.

Since these birds depend on dense undergrowth, they suffer from habitat fragmentation caused by human activities like deforestation, logging, and agriculture, which can limit food availability and cause an intraspecific competition among the species. Migration within populations in Black-throated Antshrikes is unusual, with young Black-throated Antshrikes rarely leaving their birthplace.

The survival of young Black-throated Antshrikes depends on good adaptations to the habitats of their birthplace and the conservation of these habitats.

In summary, Black-throated Antshrikes have a widespread distribution in Neotropical habitat preferences with little movements due to their sedentary nature.

Their perpetuity is reliant on the conservation of their preferred habitats, the availability of food resources and the quality of understory vegetation. Any perturbation on their habitats can limit their breeding and foraging ability, promote intraspecific competition, and compromise their ability to adapt to future habitat changes.

Conservation efforts must focus on the protection of these habitats to ensure the conservation of these species.

In conclusion, understanding in great detail the habitat preferences and movements for the Black-throated Antshrike is pivotal in the development of clever conservation efforts to ensure the species’ survival.

Diet and Foraging


The Black-throated Antshrike feeds on insects and spiders, searching for prey alone or in pairs. They perch motionless on horizontal branches or stems and then fly down to catch prey, hopping on and off the ground.

However, these birds do not fly far in search of food, remaining mainly in the 10-15 meter height range of branches.


The Black-throated Antshrike is an insectivore that feeds on a wide range of insects like beetles, caterpillars, ants, crickets, termites, grasshoppers, and spiders. They are particularly fond of probing their beaks into crevices in trees for extracting concealed prey like bugs and caterpillars.

These birds also pick prey from the underside of leaves, another reason why they require thick undergrowth to live and feed.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Black-throated Antshrikes have higher metabolic rates than other bird species of the Thamnophilidae family. Studies have shown that the species maintains a higher body temperature than other species which aids in thermoregulation, allowing them to forage for longer periods.

They also have a higher heart rate than other species, which can be attributed to their high metabolism rates. Moreover, they have a unique way of thermoregulating by increasing the rate of their metabolism, which generates more heat.

The increased rate of their metabolism raises their temperature to higher levels, which allows them to operate in lower temperatures. High metabolism enables Black-throated Antshrikes to meet their energy demands, an advantage that is unique to this species.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Black-throated Antshrikes are known to be a very vocal species. During their breeding season, males engage in aggressive and territorial vocalizations to attract females and defend their breeding territories.

They produce a series of clear, loud whistles as they search for their mate. These males are known to repeat the same songs in rapid successions, allowing them to draw attention quickly to themselves.

The female birds also sing, which differs from their male counterparts’ song. They have a shorter, more hesitant call and are known for their specific locations, which during the breeding season usually answer their male counterparts’ calls.

Mating calls of the Black-throated Antshrike have a significant role in identifying the bird due to their uniqueness. Studies have shown that individuals utilize distinctive songs, and gene recordings have confirmed this identification based on a particular song by an individual.

Males have even been observed to recognize and to respond differently to songs, providing evidence that vocalizations play a significant role in identifying individuals. In summary, the Black-throated Antshrike is a vocal bird species, with males producing territorial whistles, while the females sing distinctive calls.

They are also high-energy birds, with high metabolic rates that facilitate their energetic requirements and thermoregulation, which aid them during longer foraging periods and operability in different temperatures. Understanding their feeding habits and vocalizations is crucial to the understanding and conservation of these enthralling bird species.



The Black-throated Antshrike moves slowly and deliberately, either perching or hopping from branch to branch. They use their wings, which are proportionally smaller than other bird species, to gather sufficient lift and then hop along branches or leap from leaf to leave, which is an adaptation to their preferred habitats with dense understory vegetation.


The cleanliness of their feathers is also important to Black-throated Antshrike’s behavior, enabling them to maintain their plumage’s hydrophobicity, aiding their movement and thermoregulation. They also engage in grooming their feathers regularly, helping to keep them healthy by removing dust, contaminants, and parasites that might impede their flight capability.

Agonistic Behavior

Black-throated Antshrikes are territorial and exhibit aggressive behavior towards threats to their territories. Males will sing aggressive songs, confront other males, and engage in physical altercations with other males to defend their mating rights and territories.

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, males display territorial behavior and sing to attract females, often fighting to maintain and enhance their territorial ranges. Female antshrikes are attracted to males with well-defined territories, and they will choose to mate with the males with the most attractive songs and displays.

Males can mate with multiple females, and both sexes share in the rearing of young.


Black-throated Antshrikes breed in the spring and summer. Courtship displays include vocalizations from males and movements like wing and tail movements, which showcase their distinct plumage markings to females.

They nest in dense vegetation, constructing a cup-shaped nest made of twigs and thin stems, usually close to the ground. Both males and females take part in the nest building process.

The species has a monogamous breeding system, where males defend their territories fiercely and try to attract females. They defend their female partners from other males and share the rearing of young.

Female Black-throated Antshrikes lay between 1-2 eggs per clutch, and both parents take part in incubating their eggs until they hatch. The chicks hatch after 12-13 days of incubation and begin to fly after 16-17 days in the nest.

Demography and Populations

Black-throated Antshrikes populations will vary depending on the ecology of the habitat, quality of the forest, and the extent and intensity of human activities in their habitats. In general, the species is not endangered, although its range is gradually declining in many areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

They are more common in areas with high density vegetation, such as tropical forests, and less common in areas of deforestation. The populations of Black-throated Antshrikes are dependent on the quality and continuity of the forest habitats, providing suitable nesting sites and the availability of food resources.

The fragmentation of their habitats has been associated with a loss of genetic diversity and a decline in the population. Anthropogenic activities have devastating effects on the birds’ survival, mainly due to habitat fragmentation and conserving these habitats and their ecosystems.

In summary, Black-throated Antshrikes display a range of behavioral adaptations that aid their survival, such as deliberate locomotion and grooming, aggressive territorial behavior, and shared parental roles during breeding seasons. The survival of their populations is inextricably linked with the availability and quality of habitats, which underscores the need for conservation efforts to safeguard their populations.

In conclusion, the Black-throated Antshrike is a unique bird species with a wide range of distribution, exhibiting regional variation across its subspecies. Its preferred habitats are lowland or subtropical forests with dense undergrowth and moist conditions that allow them to thermoregulate via adaptations of their high metabolic rates.

Black-throated Antshrikes are known to move minimally, feed mainly on insects and spiders, and engage in vocalization during breeding periods. They are formidable protectors of their territorial breeding ranges and practice monogamous breeding.

Human activities have gradually compromised the integrity of their forest habitat, emphasizing the need to prioritize forest conservation and restoration to ensure the survival of this fascinating bird species.

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