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Saving the Critically Endangered Utcubamba Tapaculo: Understanding its Behavior Habitat and Threats

The Utcubamba Tapaculo or Scytalopus intermedius is a bird species that belongs to the family Rhinocryptidae. This bird species was first discovered in the cloud forests and high-altitude grasslands of northern Peru, specifically in the Utcubamba Valley.

Due to the Utcubamba Tapaculo’s specific habitat requirements and limited geographic range, this bird species is considered to be critically endangered. In this article, we will explore the identification, plumages, and molts of the Utcubamba Tapaculo.




The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a small bird that measures around 10 cm in length and weighs around 10 g. One of the distinguishing features of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is its dark plumage, which is uniformly colored across the upperparts, underparts, and flanks.

The bird also has a black bill and pinkish legs.

Similar Species:

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is similar in appearance to other tapaculos within the Scytalopus genus.

However, the range of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is limited to the Utcubamba Valley in Peru, which helps to differentiate it from other tapaculo species that occur in different geographic regions.


The Utcubamba Tapaculo has a single plumage throughout the year. Unlike many bird species that have distinct breeding and non-breeding plumages, the plumage of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is uniform, allowing for easier identification.


The Utcubamba Tapaculo has an incomplete molt. This means that it only replaces some feathers during the annual molt and never has a completely new set of feathers.

The timing of the molt is not well-known, but it is likely to occur outside of the breeding season. In conclusion, the Utcubamba Tapaculo is a unique and critically endangered bird species found in the cloud forests and high-altitude grasslands of northern Peru.

Its dark plumage, limited geographic range, and unique molting patterns make it an interesting species to study. Further research into the natural history and behavior of this bird can help to inform conservation efforts and ensure that this species is around for future generations to observe and appreciate.

Systematics History

The Utcubamba Tapaculo was first described in 1999 by Krabbe and Schulenberg. This discovery was significant because it was the first tapaculo species to be discovered in the Utcubamba Valley of northern Peru.

The Utcubamba Tapaculo has been classified into the family Rhinocryptidae, which includes species such as the Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, and Stripe-headed Antpitta.

Geographic Variation

There is very little geographic variation within the Utcubamba Tapaculo species. The bird has a consistent dark plumage throughout its range in northern Peru.

This uniformity in plumage makes field identification easier for birdwatchers and ornithologists. However, slight variation in vocalizations and genetics has been found across different populations of the species.


Currently, there are no recognized subspecies of the Utcubamba Tapaculo. This may be due to the limited range of the species and the absence of geographic variation in its plumage.

However, further research into the genetics and vocalizations of different populations may uncover further subspecific variation.

Related Species

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a member of the Scytalopus genus, which includes nearly 50 tapaculo species throughout South America. The closest relatives of the Utcubamba Tapaculo are the Marcapata Spinetail (Scytalopus urubambae) and Puna Tapaculo (Scytalopus simonsi), which occur in southern Peru and western Bolivia.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Utcubamba Tapaculo has likely had a limited range throughout its history due to its preference for high-altitude grasslands and cloud forests. However, changes in land use and habitat destruction have had a significant impact on the distribution of the species in recent history.

Deforestation and degradation of its cloud forest habitat have caused the Utcubamba Tapaculo’s population to decline and become increasingly fragmented. In addition, climate change has also had an impact on the Utcubamba Tapaculo’s distribution.

The species prefers cooler temperatures, and as temperatures rise due to climate change, the optimal habitat for the species may shift further up mountains, reducing the available habitat for the species and putting further pressure on its population. Efforts are being made to conserve the remaining Utcubamba Tapaculo population, including the establishment of protected areas in its range and reforestation efforts aimed at restoring degraded cloud forests.

In addition, further research into the natural history and behavior of the species may help to inform future conservation efforts. In conclusion, the Utcubamba Tapaculo is a unique and threatened bird species with a limited geographic range in northern Peru.

Its uniform plumage and lack of geographic variation make it an interesting species for study. However, habitat destruction and climate change have reduced the available habitat for the species and put pressure on its population.

Ongoing conservation efforts aim to protect the remaining Utcubamba Tapaculo population and ensure that this fascinating species can continue to be appreciated for generations to come.


The Utcubamba Tapaculo is primarily found in the high-altitude grasslands and cloud forests of northern Peru. This bird species is known to inhabit altitudes between 2,950m and 3,500m above sea level, where vegetation is characterized by stunted trees, shrubs, and alpine grasses.

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is known to prefer habitats with a thick understory, where they can forage for insects and other arthropods. In cloud forests, the Utcubamba Tapaculo inhabits areas with a dense understory of herbaceous vegetation.

The cloud forest creates a cooler and wetter microclimate in which this bird species thrives. These forests are widely dominated by epiphytic plants, including bromeliads, ferns, and orchids.

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is known to occupy these habitats because of the abundance of insects, spiders, snails, and other arthropods.

Movements and Migration

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is considered to be a non-migratory bird species, which means that it does not make seasonal movements to different locations. It is a sedentary bird, and it remains in its range throughout the year.

During the non-breeding season, the Utcubamba Tapaculo will move to habitats rich in undergrowth and thick fog where it is known to be active. It is also known to forage from the ground up and hide in foliage, suggesting that the Utcubamba Tapaculo depends on the understory.

However, during the breeding season, male Utcubamba Tapaculos have been observed doing territorial displays and singing at varying elevations to attract potential mates, suggesting that males may shift their range and occupy higher elevations during the breeding season. The Utcubamba Tapaculo is likely sensitive to environmental changes that can affect the quality of its habitat, making it vulnerable to habitat destruction.

With increasing temperatures associated with global warming, the Utcubamba Tapaculo’s habitat range may shift to higher elevations, which may limit its population’s growth. Climate change may also have an impact on the vegetation of the cloud forest, and this may lead to the loss of the bird’s food and nesting resources.

Climate change could also increase the potential for more frequent and intense wildfires in the grasslands, reducing the size of this species’ habitats and putting pressure on Utcubamba Tapaculo populations. Conservation efforts have been made to protect this species by establishing protected areas in its range, including the Abra Patricia-Alto Nieva Private Conservation Area.

Also, reforestation efforts have been initiated in different areas to restore degraded cloud forests and grasslands. The establishment of ecotourism in areas where the Utcubamba Tapaculo is present could help increase awareness and conservation efforts for this species.

In conclusion, the Utcubamba Tapaculo is a non-migratory bird species found in the high-altitude grasslands and cloud forests of northern Peru. This bird’s preference for specific habitats with a thick understory makes it vulnerable to habitat destruction, and climate change further threatens the availability of its critical habitat.

Current and future conservation efforts must be continuous to ensure the preservation of the Utcubamba Tapaculo and the habitats it occupies. Understanding the natural history of the species, including its migration patterns, habitat preferences, and breeding ecology, is critical to appropriately protecting this enchanting bird species.

Diet and Foraging

Feeding Behavior

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a bird species that forages actively for insects by hopping, flitting, and pecking at the ground’s surface. Most of the foraging is done in the understory and on the forest floor, where the birds search for prey.

The species has been observed feeding alone but also occasionally in pairs.


The Utcubamba Tapaculo is an insectivorous bird species that feeds mainly on arthropods (insects, spiders, and snails). This bird favors diurnal insects, and it is known to be very selective in the size of its prey.

Its diet includes insects like beetles, butterflies, moths, and other arthropods such as spiders and snails.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a bird species that is well adapted to living in high-altitude environments with a cold and harsh climate. Its metabolism has evolved to ensure optimal utilization of energy for functions like daily activities, growth, and reproduction.

To maintain a high metabolic rate, the Utcubamba Tapaculo must capture enough insects to satisfy its nutritional demands, mainly for energy and to stay warm. Additionally, the Utcubamba Tapaculo has a thick, dark plumage that helps it to stay warm in cold temperatures.

The bird’s feathers hold air, and this air layer is an insulator that reduces heat loss from the bird’s body.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a bird species that is highly vocal, and its vocalizations are used for communication with its mate and territorial neighbors. Its vocalizations are audible over long distances and are characterized by sharp, rasping notes.

The song of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is a series of notes consisting of harsh, sharp, and rasping notes, which it uses to declare the boundaries of its territory and attract a mate. The bird’s calls consist of a single note, often given three times in succession.

The birds use these calls to communicate with other members of their species, for example, to identify themselves to their mate. The Utcubamba Tapaculo’s vocalizations are usually heard at dawn and during the breeding season.

During this time, the males can often be heard singing to attract mates, and the singing often plays an important role in the territorial behavior of the birds. Understanding the natural history of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is essential for developing efficient conservation programs.

Knowledge of its diet, metabolism, and vocalizations can help to develop strategies for habitat management and monitoring. In addition, continued research into the biology of this bird can help improve conservation efforts and contribute to the preservation of this bird species.



The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a bird species that is adapted to life in the understory and forest floor, which often required them to move actively and agilely through dense vegetation. The bird uses a hopping and flitting locomotion, which is common among other tapaculo species.

Self Maintenance

The Utcubamba Tapaculo, like other bird species, engages in activities to keep its plumage clean and free of parasites. The species is known to engage in preening behavior, which involves using the bill to reach inaccessible areas of the body.

Agonistic Behavior

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a territorial bird species that defends its territory against other birds of its species. This involves aggressive behavior towards intruders that enter its breeding territory.

The birds engage in agonistic behavior that may include threats, singing, and ritualized fighting.

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, the male Utcubamba Tapaculo sings to attract a mate and ward off other males from its territory. The courtship behavior of the male bird involves calling and displaying to the female.

Female Utcubamba Tapaculos are generally more cryptically colored and less vocal than males, making them a challenging observation target.


The breeding season for the Utcubamba Tapaculo varies slightly depending on the region in which they live.

Breeding typically takes place between August and December in the northern regions of the bird’s range, and between October and December in the Southern areas.

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a monogamous species, and pairs remain together year-round. Courtship behaviors are intense, with males displaying their territorial ownership through calling, display flights, and other vocalizations.

Once paired, the birds build a cup-shaped nest using plant material like leaves, moss, stem fibers, and roots. The birds’ nest in the understory, and they typically locate their nest near the base of a dense leafy plant.

The incubation period lasts around 25 days, and once hatched, the young birds are brown with white gape lines. Both parents will participate in the feeding and care of the chicks, which remain in the nest for around 17 days before fledging.

Demography and Populations

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a critically endangered species due to fragmentation and loss of its habitat, which has resulted from anthropogenic activities. The total population size of the species has not been adequately estimated, but it is known to be under severe threat.

The species’ habitat is limited to a narrow range of high-altitude shrubland and cloud forest habitats, which are under constant threat from deforestation, habitat degradation, and agricultural activities. Agricultural activities and deforestation have resulted in habitat fragmentation, with the species populations separated by unsuitable habitats or agricultural lands.

While no systematic demographic studies have been completed, the Utcubamba Tapaculo population is believed to be in decline, and conservation efforts are necessary to ensure its survival. Initiatives to protect the remaining habitat and restore degraded areas are vital, and reintrodution projects must be carried out to expand the species’ range in other suitable high-altitude areas.

In conclusion, understanding the behavior of the Utcubamba Tapaculo is an essential component of developing and implementing effective conservation measures. The information on movement, feeding, breeding, and vocalization behavior discussed in this article is essential for protecting the species, and it is important to continue researching the natural history of the species.

The protection of the remaining forests and the restoration of degraded areas are crucial for the survival of this critically endangered species. The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a unique and threatened bird species found in the cloud forests and high-altitude grasslands of northern Peru.

This bird species faces numerous challenges, including habitat destruction, climate change, and deforestation. These challenges point to the need for a concerted effort to protect and conserve the species.

With ongoing conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting its habitat, the Utcubamba Tapaculo can thrive, and its remarkable natural history can continue to contribute to our appreciation of the diversity and complexity of life on Earth. Proper management of the Utcubamba Tapaculo’s habitat, along with continued research into the biology of this bird, is therefore essential.

The Utcubamba Tapaculo is a testament to the beauty of life in the natural world and reminds us of our responsibility to protect and preserve it for future generations.

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