Bird O'clock

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Elusive Black Tinamou: A Guide to Identification Behavior and Conservation Efforts

Black Tinamou, scientifically known as Tinamus osgoodi, is a bird species found in the tropical forests of South America. This ground-dwelling bird is a member of the family Tinamidae, which includes around 50 species of tinamous that are mainly found in Central and South America.

The Black Tinamou is a relatively large and dark bird with subtle features that make it distinguishable from other species. In this article, we will explore the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Black Tinamou.



Identification of Black Tinamou can be a bit tricky, as the bird is mostly found hiding in the forest understory. The Black Tinamou is a stocky bird that averages around 14 inches in length, with a wingspan of about 17 inches.

The bird has a dark brown to blackish plumage, with a slightly paler belly. It also has a small, dark head with a short, straight bill.

The legs are sturdy and strong, with a greenish tinge in coloration. The eyes are reddish-brown, surrounded by a bare, light blue skin patch.

Similar Species

The Black Tinamou has several similar species that can be found in its range. The Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) is the largest of all tinamous and has a more reddish-brown plumage on the back and wings.

The Slaty-breasted Tinamou (Crypturellus boucardi) has a similar dark plumage, but it is a smaller bird with a yellowish tinge on its breast. The Undulated Tinamou (Crypturellus undulatus) has a more distinctive pattern on its plumage, with white spots on the chest and a more prominent bill.


The Black Tinamou has no distinctive sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females look the same. However, juveniles have a slightly duller plumage than adults.

The Black Tinamou’s plumage is mainly dark brown to black, with a faintly barred pattern on the back and wings. It has a paler belly that appears slightly rufous in some individuals.

The bird’s head, neck, and breast are uniformly dark, with no distinct markings. As the bird ages, its plumage tends to become more uniform, and the barring on the back and wings fades away.


The Black Tinamou has two molts per year one for breeding and one for non-breeding seasons. The breeding or prebasic molt occurs between September and December in South America.

During this time, the bird replaces all its feathers on its body. The non-breeding or alternative molt occurs between April and July, where the bird replaces only its primaries and secondaries feathers.

The undertail coverts are the last feathers to molt in both molts. In conclusion, the Black Tinamou is an elusive and beautiful bird found in tropical forests in South America.

Its distinct features, including its dark brown to black plumage and sturdy legs, make it an easy bird to identify when spotted. While it has some similar species, such as the Great Tinamou and Slaty-breasted Tinamou, the small differences in plumage and other features set them apart.

Understanding the plumage and molting patterns of the Black Tinamou is crucial in their identification, making bird enthusiasts better equipped to spot one of these elusive birds when they come across them.

Systematics History

The Black Tinamou, scientifically known as Tinamus osgoodi, was first described by Reginald Heber as a subspecies of the Great Tinamou in 1916. However, it was later recognized as a valid species based on morphological and genetic differences from the Great Tinamou.

The species was named after Wilfred H. Osgood, an American ornithologist who collected one of the first specimens of the bird in northwest Ecuador.

Geographic Variation

The Black Tinamou is found in the tropical forests of western Colombia and Ecuador. The species is known to inhabit humid montane forests, cloud forests, and lowland forests up to 1,800 meters above sea level.

The Black Tinamou has no distinctive sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females have similar physical features. The bird’s plumage ranges from dark brown to black, with a slightly paler belly.

The legs have a green tint, and the eyes are reddish-brown, surrounded by a light blue skin patch.


The Black Tinamou has no known subspecies.

Related Species

The Black Tinamou belongs to the family Tinamidae, which consists of around 50 species of tinamous. Tinamous are mainly found in Central and South America and are closely related to ratites, such as the ostrich, emu, and cassowary.

The Black Tinamou is most closely related to the Great Tinamou, which is found in a similar range to the Black Tinamou, but at lower elevations. The Great Tinamou is a larger bird with a more reddish-brown plumage on the back and wings.

Other closely related tinamous include the Highland Tinamou (Nothocercus bonapartei), the Rufous-breasted Tinamou (Nothocercus julius), and the Slaty-breasted Tinamou (Crypturellus boucardi).

Historical Changes to Distribution

The distribution of the Black Tinamou has been greatly impacted by deforestation and habitat loss due to human activities such as logging, agriculture, and mining. The species is now listed as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List due to the loss of its habitat, which has resulted in population declines.

The Black Tinamou’s range has also been fragmented, leading to isolated populations that are at risk of extinction.

In the early 1900s, the Black Tinamou was predominantly found in Colombia, near the Pacific coast from Buenaventura to Tumbes.

However, the species’ range has since contracted, and it is now mainly found in Ecuador, with small pockets of populations in Colombia. The species has also been recorded in northern Peru, but its occurrence in this area requires further investigation.

Today, the Black Tinamou’s population is estimated to be around 10,000 individuals, but this number is declining. Conservation efforts are needed to protect the species and its habitat, including the preservation of forests and the creation of protected areas.

Research into the species’ biology, behavior, and habitat requirements will also help to inform conservation efforts and ensure that appropriate measures are taken to preserve this beautiful bird for future generations. In conclusion, the Black Tinamou is a beautiful and elusive bird found in the tropical forests of South America.

While its range has shrunk, and its population has declined due to the loss of its habitat, efforts are being taken to protect the species and ensure its survival. Understanding its taxonomic classification, geographic variation, and related species is essential in identifying and preserving the Black Tinamou.

As we work towards protecting this species, we must also recognize the importance of preserving the rich biodiversity of our planet.


The Black Tinamou is a ground-dwelling bird that is mainly found in undisturbed tropical forests in the Western Andes region of South America. They primarily inhabit the understory layer of these forests, which is the layer below the treetops and above the forest floor.

These forests are characterized by their high humidity, high rainfall, and dense vegetation, providing an optimal habitat for the Black Tinamou. Black Tinamous prefer humid mountain forests, cloud forests, and lowland forests.

They are most typically found in fragmented forests, edges, and areas with a variety of tree species, although they can also be found in more open areas such as plantations, pastures, and secondary forests. They are a forest specialist and rarely found in open areas or agricultural landscapes.

Movements and Migration

The Black Tinamou is a sedentary species, meaning that they do not undertake long-distance migrations, and are mostly non-migratory. They are more likely to move within their home range to search for food or mates.

They tend to be shy, retiring birds and are not typically found in open areas except in the very early morning or late afternoon during feeding periods.

Studies have suggested that the species may undergo seasonal movements related to food availability and breeding.

During the breeding season, which is typically between December and April, they stay in one place, mating and breeding in the forest understory. During the non-breeding season, between May and November, they may move to areas with more abundant food resources.

The main reason for the Black Tinamou’s stable site occupancy is its dependence on dense forest habitat, which is often not available in surrounding areas. This species’ sedentary nature makes it particularly susceptible to habitat loss and fragmentation, which can impact their ability to find mates and food.

Additionally, they are vulnerable to edge effects that can result from forest fragmentation. Conservation efforts for the Black Tinamou should focus on preserving forest cover in areas where the bird is found.

Such efforts will enable the natural movement of this species and maintain its population stability and health. Additionally, the creation of habitat corridors can help to reduce the impact of fragmentation, ensuring unrestricted access to mates and food resources.

In conclusion, the Black Tinamou stays within its home range throughout its life, living in dense forest understory habitats in western Colombia and Ecuador. As a sedentary bird, the species moves seasonally in search of abundant food resources, but they do not undertake long-range migrations.

Habitat loss and fragmentation have a significant impact on the Black Tinamou’s survival, and conservation efforts should focus on preserving forest cover to ensure the maintenance of a stable and healthy population of this species.

Diet and Foraging

Feeding: The Black Tinamou is an omnivorous species that feeds on a wide variety of plant and animal matter. Their diet encompasses predominantly leaves, fruits, seeds, and insects.

They are also known to consume small vertebrates, small mammals, and occasionally snails. Black Tinamous typically forage during the day, and although slow-moving, they are capable of running fast and flushing out insects and other prey.

Diet: The Black Tinamou is a highly adaptable species with a varied diet. They feed on several plant species, including the leaves, buds, and fruits of understory plants.

Fruits and seeds make up a significant proportion of the Black Tinamou’s diet, with some studies suggesting that they may preferentially feed on palm fruits. Insects and other small invertebrates, including earthworms, ants, grasshoppers, and beetles, also form part of the Black Tinamou’s diet.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation: The Black Tinamou has a lower metabolic rate than other birds of similar size, which allows them to maintain a low body temperature when roosting. This helps them to conserve energy, especially during periods of food scarcity.

However, when foraging, their metabolism increases, allowing them to maintain body warmth and meet the demands of physical activity.

Sounds and Vocal


Vocalization: The Black Tinamou is known for its beautiful and varied vocalizations, with both males and females contributing to the song. Black Tinamous sing on the ground, typically in dense cover, and the song varies from a low-pitched ‘whoo-oo’ to a complex, multitone series of calls.

Their song is often described as a deep, hoarse, booming sound that is sometimes audible from a great distance. The Black Tinamou’s song has various functions, including territorial displays, calling out for mating, and nesting.

They are known for their distinctive booming calls that they use to proclaim their existence and scare off rivals from their territories. During the breeding season, males will sing in a relatively fixed spot, with the song attracting the attention of females.

The nesting call is often softer and less structured, and it is used to attract the attention of nearby flock members. In conclusion, the Black Tinamou is a highly adaptable, omnivorous species that feeds mainly on leaves, fruits, seeds, and insects.

They have a lower metabolic rate than other birds of similar size, a characteristic that allows them to conserve energy during periods of food scarcity. Despite their relatively low metabolic rate, Black Tinamous are physically active birds, capable of running swiftly or flushing out insects and other prey efficiently.

The Black Tinamou is also a species known for its beautiful and varied vocalizations, with both males and females contributing to the song. Two main call types have been identifiedthe territorial and the nesting calls.

The territory call is typically a deep, hoarse, booming sound used to proclaim their existence and ward off rivals from their territories. The nesting call, on the other hand, is a milder call that is used to attract nearby flock members.

The Black Tinamou’s vocal performances are representative of the species’ unique characteristics, and the birds can be spotted in forest understory habitats in western Colombia and Ecuador.


Locomotion: The Black Tinamou is a terrestrial bird and moves primarily by walking and running. They have a relatively short wingspan and are not strong fliers, although they can make short flights to escape predators or move between trees when necessary.

The birds are adept at running on the forest floor, using their powerful legs to move through thick underbrush and densely wooded areas. Self Maintenance: The Black Tinamou is highly skilled in self-maintenance and practices preening regularly to keep its feathers in good condition.

Preening is a common behavior among birds that involves the use of the beak to remove or clean feathers and remove parasites. Black Tinamous also engage in dust bathing, which involves rolling around in dust or loose soil to remove dirt and excess oil from their feathers.


Behavior: Black Tinamous are highly territorial birds and will defend their territory and resources against rivals aggressively. They engage in several agonistic behaviors, including head bobbing, tail flicking, and wing displays.

These behaviors are used to signal the bird’s strength and intimidate potential rivals. Sexual

Behavior: The Black Tinamou engages in courtship displays, with males singing to attract females during the breeding season.

The male will call out and perform a series of head movements and wing whirring to show off his strength and attract a mate. Once mated, the male and female will build a nest in the forest understory in dense cover, with the male handling most of the nest duties.


The Black Tinamou is a seasonal breeder, with the breeding season occurring between December and April in its range. During this period, males will sing in relatively fixed positions, and females are attracted by the song.

Once a pair is formed, the male will engage in courtship rituals, such as head movements and wing displays, to strengthen the bond between himself and the female. The breeding pair of Black Tinamous will construct a shallow, well-concealed nest on the forest floor in a dense cover of vegetation.

The nest is typically made up of plant material, which will help camouflage the eggs. The female will lay between two and six eggs, which she will incubate on her own for approximately three weeks until they hatch.

Once hatched, the young chicks grow quickly and are able to leave the nest in a few days. The parents will keep a watchful eye over their offspring, protecting them from predators such as snakes and birds of prey.

Young Black Tinamous reach sexual maturity after one year and are ready to breed.

Demography and Populations

The Black Tinamou is a species classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, primarily due to the severe loss and fragmentation of its habitat, which poses a significant threat to its populations. While the bird has a wide range in western Colombia and Ecuador, its populations have declined rapidly in recent decades.

Conservation efforts are essential in preserving the species and maintaining healthy populations of the Black Tinamou. Efforts to conserve the forests, creating protected areas, and reducing habitat fragmentation should be the primary focus of these efforts.

Additionally, the implementation of sustainable land-use practices that maintain forest cover and promote the growth of understory vegetation can help ensure a healthy environment for the Black Tinamou and other forest-dwelling species. In conclusion, the Black Tinamou is a fascinating bird that exhibits a range of behaviors, including courtship displays, territorial defense, and self-maintenance.

Black Tinamous breed seasonally, building nests on the forest floor and raising their chicks in a dense understory cover. While their range is relatively wide, their populations are in decline, making conservation efforts paramount to ensure the survival of this remarkable and unique bird species.

In conclusion, the Black Tinamou is a beautiful and unique bird species that inhabits the dense tropical forests of western Colombia and Ecuador. Through studying its taxonomy, related species, habitat, behavior, diet, and breeding, we can gain important insights into the challenges it faces in its environment.

Habitat loss, fragmentation, and human activity pose significant dangers to the survival of this species, given that it has a lower metabolic rate and is mostly sedentary. Thus, conservation efforts must focus on preserving forest cover, the creation of protected areas, and sustainable land-use practices.

If we work toward understanding and protecting this species and its habitat, we can ensure that the Black Tinamou’s rich biodiversity continues to thrive for generations to come.

Popular Posts