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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Sounds and Vocal Behavior

There have been no studies of functions or behaviors associated with the vocalizations of Long-billed Gnatwren. It vocalizes rather frequently while foraging, and numerous authors have pointed to this being the best way to locate them.


Vocal Array

Though a vocal species, almost all recordings are of Song or Chit calls. The line between song and call is unclear for certain trilled series, and some variations may serve both functions. Several other, rarer, vocalizations exist, but more study is needed on all of them.

Song. The most frequently heard vocalization, across the range of the species, is a long (c 2-2.5 sec) trill (44, 45). In most versions, the notes are delivered at an even pitch, but some versions also rise or fall slightly in pitch or vary somewhat in speed (16, 32); these may be linked to geographic variation. Usually the trill is quite fast, but some variations much slower (slow enough to count the notes) and more musical. The trill is frequently preceded by introductory notes, which can vary from a "quiet chortle" (11) to a more complex series of rattles to the point that the whole song is two- or three-parted. Other variations include "lower and gruffer trills, often preceded by quiet chatters" (11).

Complex song. Rarely heard, a quiet series of nasal whistled notes and chips given quickly, usually for a prolonged duration (up to 30s), sometimes mixed with more typical song phrases. At least one example contains some mimicry. Very few recordings available, so little to no information on variability, context, or function.

Chit. The most commonly heard call, a slightly nasal, slightly upslurred Chit note from c 2-10 kHz. Can be given individually, but most often as a prolonged series of up to 4-5 notes/s. Some variation in pitch may be related to the level of alarm, but more study needed. Sometimes given mixed with Churt notes or Churrs.

Churr. Given in high alarm, a rapid, relatively low-pitched, stuterring trill. Variable in duration, from c 0.5s to 2s or more. The boundary between some Churrs and agitated song not always clear. Has been described as a “low churring” (trinitatis; 32), a rapidly repeated, nasal cheut-cheut, a slower chir-r-r chir-r, and a “dry, crackling chatter” reminiscent of White-bellied Wren Uropsila leucogastra (rufiventris; 11).

Churt. A relatively low-pitched, rough and slightly nasal tchup or churt, slightly longer in duration than the more common Chit call, and often given in conjunction with it. No information on context or function.

Geographic Variation

There is a measure of individual and/or geographical variation of vocalizations from across the range of the species, although it can be difficult to disentangle differences between authors in transcribing the song, from differences in the songs themselves. In Ecuador, the song heard east of the Andes (duidae) has a steadier, more even pitch, but the song of the population west of the Andes (rufiventris) is described as more musical, with more varied pitch and tendency to rise at beginning (365). Most recordings from Mexico vary in pitch, with relatively few evenly-pitched songs; Howell and Webb (11) describe the trill as rising and falling, and liken it to the trill of northern populations of Tropical Pewee Contopus cinereus. In Colombia, the Song in many recordings much slower and more musical, described as wheit-wheit-wheit-wheit-wheit-wheit, preceded by quiet chert, chert-sweet or skee-er chortle, and recordings from Valle de Cauca sometimes have more complex introductions than found elsewhere.


Sings throughout year (7), but more study needed to determine what, if any, seasonal variations exist.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Song activity is greatest from early to mid morning, but also regular during afternoon(7). Calls heard at any time of day.

Places of Vocalizing

Sings mostly from middle canopy (44), but also from lower in dense growth. Calls given from a variety of locations, but almost always while hidden in dense habitat, including vine tangles and bamboo.

Gender Differences

No information.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Little studied. Some variation noted in individual repertoires, with variable numbers of introductory notes and the musicality of the main trilled component of the Song. A drier, less musical version of the typical trill may be given during active foraging (16).

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

More study needed, especially to elucidate the boundary between Songs that serve a territorial function and those that are given as alarm or contact calls. Chit most often given in alarm, but sometimes heard from foraging birds. Churrs typically given in high alarm, including in the presence of potential predators. Little information on Whisper Song; one example given in response to playback, but another heard from an apparently unalarmed bird foraging.

Nonvocal Sounds

None known.

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