Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone cinnamomea Scientific name definitions

Pamela C. Rasmussen, Kees Moeliker, Josep del Hoyo, David Christie, and Nigel Collar
Version: 2.0 — Published May 20, 2022


Systematics History

Although many earlier authors treated the Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher in the separate genus Xeocephus (4) (given as Zeocephus, Bp., (5, 6) and others, presumably an incorrect subsequent spelling), this genus was established partly because the first specimens Sharpe studied lacked elongate central rectrices. When it then became clear that northern birds can have elongate rectrices (7), there was little remaining justification for the maintenance of the Xeocephalus genus. The genus sometimes has included the Blue Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone cyanescens) of Palawan, but some (8, 9) have argued that they should be treated as congeneric with other paradise-flycatchers, as they have been by most authors since. Wolters (10) was a notable exception; he even treated Cerulean Flycatcher (Eutrichomyias rowleyi) of Sangihe as a subgenus within Xeocephalus (but Eutrichomyias is now considered by some to belong to the family Lamproliidae (11, 12) or subfamily Lamproliinae of Rhipiduridae (13).

Recent phylogenetic analyses have shown that, surprisingly, the "Asian Paradise-Flycatcher" (Terpsiphone paradisi sensu latu) was polyphyletic, with the Terpsiphone paradisi sensu stricto group embedded within the African clade, while the two Philippines species formerly in Xeocephalus are actually more closely related to the Asian species Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone affinis), Amur Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone incei), and Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata) than to the African and West Asian clade (14, 15). In addition, the postulated superspecies relationship between Terpsiphone cinnamomea and Terpsiphone cyanescens (16, 17) was questioned as long ago as 1921 (18) and led to the description of a new subgenus Neoxeocephus for Terpsiphone cyanescens; McGregor also suggested (18) that all should be in Terpsiphone. This has been borne out by recent phylogenetic analyses, which show that Terpsiphone cyanescens and Terpsiphone cinnamomea are in the same major clade but not a monophyletic group to the exclusion of other east Asian taxa now in Terpsiphone (14, 15).

As was typically done for distinct taxa in the 19th Century, T. c. cinnamomeus (Sharpe, 1877) and T. c. talautensis (Meyer and Wiglesworth, 1894) were both originally described as full species, and the former is now considered the nominate. This is because, even though long antedated by Tchitrea rufa G. R. Gray, 1843, when Salomonsen (8) proposed all the paradise-flycatchers be considered congeneric in Terpsiphone, he showed that Tchitrea rufa G. R. Gray, 1843 (19) was preoccupied by Muscipeta rufa Swainson, 1837, a synonym of Malagasy Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata), and he thus proposed the replacement name T. c. unirufa Salomonsen, 1937 (8, 16).

Long treated as two species (20, 21), it was argued that cinnamomea and unirufa should be considered specifically distinct even though they are similar in immature plumage because the northern and southern groups were very distinct on overall color and tail projection (22). Salomonsen had however advocated their treatment as a single species (8), and this has been followed by most authors since then (e.g., 16). It has recently been proposed that two species should be recognized, the Northern Rufous Paradise-flycatcher T. unirufa for the form inhabiting Luzon and several of the western Visayas islands, and the Southern Rufous Paradise-flycatcher T. c. cinnamomea (with T. c. talautensis) for Mindanao, a few eastern Visayas islands, islands to the southwest of Mindanao including the Sulu Archipelago, Camiguin Island to the north of Mindanao, and the Talaud Islands. Genetic divergence between the two groups has been dated at around 1.8 million years ago (14) and apparent differences in bandwidth of song between them (23) seem to support this treatment. However, they are not highly visually distinct, and males of the possibly extinct population of Negros Island attributed to unirufa lack tail streamers. Birds on Samar have been considered to belong to the northern taxon (20), though they are now attributed to the southern nominate (24). T. cinnamomea has been confounded with T. unirufus (then Zeocephus rufus) by Kutter (25), who thought the specimen he was studying was new for Mindanao. Likewise, the groups are similar enough in some plumages for Wardlaw-Ramsay (26) to have stated that a specimen from Mindanao agreed with three from Luzon. Thus, further study is required before species limits can be confidently modified from the one-species treatment.

Subspecies talautensis has sometimes treated as a separate species (27), but a report in HBW suggesting the Talaud bird has a different voice is incorrect (23). In fact, despite its geographic isolation, it is unclear how or whether the Talaud population differs from the nominate.

Geographic Variation

Adult males from Negros seem to lack the elongate central rectrices and are said to be rather paler than other birds of the northern group (28, 29, 30) , but they do not appear to have been described subspecifically, and the population is likely now extinct or locally extirpated (31). Birds from the northern islands tend to have longer wings and tail (exclusive of tail streamers, which are much longer) than those of the south (29; see measurements therein). Even among the population of Luzon, there is great variability in whether adult males have greatly elongated tail streamers, with only a small fraction achieving marked lengthening (32, 30). Among the many specimens destroyed when the Philippine National Museum burned in Manila in 1945 were a large number of males with long-streamed tails (32, 30).


Three subspecies recognized.


Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher (Northern) Terpsiphone cinnamomea unirufa Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

The syntype listed as the holotype of T. c. unirufa (= rufa) (G. R. Gray, 1843) by Sharpe (6), is a relaxed mount, BMNH 1842.2.15.35, and another cleaner syntype is in the collection of the Natural History Museum UK (33, 34).

The type of a now-synonymized subspecies described from Polillo, T. unirufa ramosi Manuel, 1957 is listed as Philippine National Museum 0-5432 (35).


Northern Philippines: Palaui, Luzon, Polillo, Alabat, Catanduanes, Lubang, Mindoro, Marinduque, Tablas, Romblon, Sibuyan, Panay, Negros and Cebu.

Identification Summary

Juvenile resembles adult. The males are entirely rich rufous chestnut, slightly darker on the head, and primaries have darker blackish-brown tips. They also have elongated central tail feathers that are very obvious. The females are like the males but are somewhat smaller on average, without elongated central rectrices, and are paler, especially on belly. Male differs from nominate subspecies in being slightly larger, with longer central tail feathers, and in being an overall darker shade of rufous.


Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher (Southern) Terpsiphone cinnamomea cinnamomea/talautensis


Terpsiphone cinnamomea cinnamomea Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

The holotype of T. c. cinnamomea (Sharpe, 1877) is in the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, UMMZ B155a, Philippines, Basilan; obtained by Beal-Steere Expedition, original no. 6690 (36, 37, 34).


Southern Philippines: Samar, Dinagat, Siargao, Camiguin Sur, Mindanao, Basilan and Sulu Archipelago.

Identification Summary

See Plumages.


Terpsiphone cinnamomea talautensis Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

The lectotype and five paralectotypes of T. c. talautensis (A. B. Meyer and Wiglesworth, 1894) are held at the Museum of Zoology, State Natural History Collections Dresden (38).


Talaud Islands, Indonesia, south of the Philippines.

Identification Summary

Juvenile talautensis is hardly different from the nominate. Adult is said to be slightly paler than the nominate (29), but the validity of this subspecies requires re-evaluation.

Related Species

The Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher is not very closely related to any other species, though it falls into the same major clade as Blue Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone cyanescens), Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone affinis) , Amur Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone incei), and Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata) (14, 15).

Recommended Citation

Rasmussen, P. C., K. Moeliker, J. del Hoyo, D. A. Christie, and N. Collar (2022). Rufous Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone cinnamomea), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rupfly1.02