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Version 1.0

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White-crested Elaenia Elaenia albiceps

Thomas S. Schulenberg
Version: 1.0 — Published September 10, 2009


Geographic Variation

Six subspecies currently are recognized, which fall into three groups (each of which may represent a separate species).

Resident Andean taxa:

1) Elaenia albiceps griseogularis Sclater 1858. Resident in the Andes from southwestern Colombia south to northwestern Peru. Similar to nominate albiceps, and not always distinguishable by plumage; averages paler in color on the upperparts, with less white in the crown, a shorter crest, and a less distinct eye ring.

2) Elaenia albiceps diversa Zimmer 1941. Resident in north central Peru. Similar to griseogularis, but the throat is whiter, the wing bars are less distinct, and there is more contrast between olive flanks and the white belly.

3) Elaenia albiceps urubambae Zimmer 1941. Resident in southeastern Peru (Cuzco). Paler above than nominate, with less prominent eye ring or pale lores, the wing bars are duller, the belly may have a pale yellow wash, and bill is slightly heavier.

4) Elaenia albiceps albiceps (d'Orbigny and Lafresnaye 1837). Resident from southeastern Peru (Puno) to south central Bolivia (Cochabamba).

Austral migrant taxon:

5) Elaenia albiceps chilensis Hellmayr 1927. Breeds from southern Bolivia, northern Chile and northern Argentina south to southern Chile and Argentina; most populations are migratory. Darker olive above, with whiter and more contrasting eye ring and lores, a whiter coronal stripe, narrower and more sharply defined wing bars, and paler, whiter underparts. This subspecies also often has a longer primary extension than other subspecies, with the 10th (outermost) primary longer than the 5th.

Intratropical migrant taxon:

6) Elaenia albiceps modesta Tschudi 1844. Breeds in western Peru and northwestern Chile; migratory. This is the most divergent subspecies. Plumage duller overall with a greatly reduced facial pattern (little or no eye ring, and lores showing little or no contrast) and duller, less distinct wing bars. Also, pale edgings on the inner remiges extend all the way to the base of the feather; in other subspecies, these bases are dusky, contrasting with the pale edgings farther out the remiges.

Related Species

White-crested Eleania often is believed to be closely related to Small-billed Elaenia (e.g, Hosner 2004). Small-billed Elaenia and the northernmost populations of albiceps chilensis locally hybridize in southern Bolivia, although hybridization has not been reported where their distributions overlap in northwestern Argentina (Traylor 1982). In contrast, a phylogenetic survey of Elaenia, using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, produced a very different pattern: White-crested Elaenia (based on samples from Peru and Argentina) is sister to nominate Sierran Elaenia (E. pallatangae), whereas Small-billed Elaenia is in a separate clade within the genus and is sister to Yellow-bellied Elaenia (E. flavogaster) (Rheindt et al. 2008).

A more detailed phylogenetic survey of Andean taxa of Elaenia, again using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, demonstrated that the White-crested Elaenia is polyphyletic (Rheindt et al. 2009).  The southern austral migrant chilensis forms a clade that is separate from a clade made up of resident taxa (represented by albiceps and griseogularis). This survey unfortunately did not include any representatives of the distinctive taxon modesta, which has been considered a separate species by some authors (e.g. Zimmer 1941).

Hybridization has been suspected between albiceps griseogularis and nominate Sierran Elaenia (E. pallatangae) in southwestern Ecuador (Zimmer 1941), although this has not been confirmed through field studies.  Rhenidt et al. (2009) reported evidence of genetic introgression between nominate Sierran Elaenia (E. pallatangae) and the chilensis subspecies of White-crested Elaenia.

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, T. S. (2009). White-crested Elaenia (Elaenia albiceps), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.whcela1.01