Long-billed Gnatwren Ramphocaenus melanurus

Harold F. Greeney, Jonathan L. Atwood, Susannah B. Lerman, and Andrew J. Spencer
Version: 2.0 — Published July 16, 2020


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This curious little bird is rather common at Greytown, where it passes its time in the bushy thickets. On the Escondido it is often met with in the forest, hopping about in the "thick undergrowth, seldom getting more than a few feet above the ground. It is usually quick and Wrenlike in its movements, but at times acts very leisurely, scrutinizing its surroundings in search of insect food, very much after the fashion of a Vireo. It is a quiet, unsuspicious bird, rarely uttering a note of any kind, or manifesting uneasiness at the proximity of an unusual object." —Charles W. Richmond (1893), eastern Nicaragua (73)

Walking, Running, Hopping, Climbing, etc.

Foraging birds spend most of their time hopping, flitting, and climbing through the vine tangles and thick vegetation (7). Numerous observers have noted its ability to remain hidden within while foraging (197, 160). Its distinctive tail movements also are often remarked upon (364, 5, 112). Aldrich and Bole (82) described these curious movements as a "gnatcatcher-like habit of dancing stiff-legged about on its perch with tail held aloft". Carriker (98) describes it as "holding their long tail in a perpendicular position, and twitching it up and down", and ffrench (118) noted that the tail is "held cocked and swung loosely around" while foraging. Griscom (66) remarked that the foraging of rufiventris was at times wren-like, and on other occasions its foraging was more reminiscent of a Polioptila gnatcatcher.


Long flights are rare.

Sexual Behavior

Little information.

Mating System and Operational Sex Ratio

So far as is known, is socially monogamous, and pairs remain together throughout the year (7), but there have been no studies of displays, pair formation and maintenance, or any other aspect of sexual behavior.

Social and Interspecific Behavior

Long-billed Gnatwren forages alone, in pairs, or in small family groups (361, 73, 7, 16, 115), sometimes joining mixed-species flocks (73, 366). Willis (251) frequently found it associating with noisy foraging flocks of ant-tanagers (Habia) in Belize, but the details of its interactions with other flock members have not been studied in detail. In the Amazon there are scattered reports of Long-billed Gnatwren joining mixed species assemblages following army ant swarms (206). Indeed, Olalla (361) not only frequently found amazonum foraging with flocks, but felt that the gnatwren might actually function as flock leader and sentinel. He described how it vocalizes at regular intervals while moving with the flock and, when alarmed, falls silent. Olalla (361) observed other flock members reacting to the cessation of gnatwren calls by halting foraging activities, seeking cover, and remaining motionless. No other observer has reported similar behavior, however.

Recommended Citation

Greeney, H. F., J. L. Atwood, S. B. Lerman, and A. J. Spencer (2020). Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg, B. K. Keeney, and S. M. Billerman, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.lobgna5.02