Tawny Antpitta Grallaria quitensis Scientific name definitions

Harold F. Greeney and Andrew J. Spencer
Version: 2.0 — Published September 1, 2023

Photos from this Account

Adult (Western)
Adult (Northern)
Juvenile (Western)
Adult (Western)
Adult (Western)
Adult (Western)
Adult (Western)
Tawny Antpitta.
Possible confusion species: Muisca Antpitta (Grallaria rufula).

Muisca Antpitta is smaller, with a much smaller bill, and is much more uniformly rufous or rufescent than Tawny Antpitta.

Lateral view of Boyaca Antpitta

Note how much paler below and browner above this species is, when compared to its only similarly-sized sympatric congener, Muisca Antpitta.

Natal (first) Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

The first (nessoptile) natal down is sparse and pale gray to blackish. A few days after hatching, nestlings develop a dense coat of second (mesoptile) post-natal down. The bill and gape are bright ornage in hatchlings and nestlings

Natal (first) and Post-natal (second) Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Still incapable of flight, recently fledged young are also awkward on their feet. Nevertheless, when the opportunity presents itself, they may move to a sunny perch to sun themselves. The finely barred plumage of fledglings no doubt aids in keeping them hidden from the eyes of predators. The legs and feet are grayish pink in nestlings.

Natal and Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Young covered in their dense, wool-like second, post-natal down at the time of fledging. In this individual the remnants of its first natal down are also present (the gray, fluffy "eyebrows". The bill and swollen gape are bright orange.

Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

At the time of their departure from the nest, the young are still clothed in their second post-natal down. Also note that their juvenile flight feathers have not yet finished emerging from their sheaths.

Natal and Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

The bills of fledglings still bear a bright white egg tooth at the tip of the maxilla, as well as their inflated rictal flanges. The latter, along with their bright orange or orange-crimson mouth linings are probably key feathers that are used to signal their parents their desire to receive a meal.

Natal and Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Unable to fly and awkward, even on their feet, fledglings have at least one important aid to their survival: their dense coating of wool-like post-natal down feathers.

Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

With only partially developed juvenile flight feathers, young fresh from the nest are incapable of flight. In addition, although they will never reach a very impressive length, their tail feathers have only broken free of their sheaths during their last few days in the nest. At the time of fledging, they are less than a centimeter long and do not even poke out beyond their fluffy plumage.

Natal and Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Along with the wild eyebrow-like tufts of gray natal down that remain at the time of their departure from the nest, young carry another momento from their first day outside the egg. This view clearly shows the bright white egg tooth at the tip of their bill, an important tool that facilitates breaking open the eggshell.

Post-natal Down in fledgling Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Below, as above, fledglings are thickly covered in dense post-natal down. Undoubtedly this is a feature that plays a central role in their ability to survive the harsh weather and cold nights of their paramo habitat.

Juvenile Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Juvenile Plumage is like later plumages but is washed more with tawny and have conspicuous spots on the upperpart feathers and sides of the breast. Within a week or so after leaving the nest, the young have fully emerged juvenile flight feathers and are (presumably) capable of limited flights. Their long legs, however, quickly gain the strength needed to propel them along the ground as they follow their parents and beg for their next meal.

Juvenile Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Now much more alert and wary than they were as nestlings, juveniles wait patiently and vigilantly for their parents' next food delivery. Most often hide in their sheltered perch is well concealed by surrounding vegetation. When not practicing their foraging skills out in the open, the young will remain at a sheltered location on the ground or on a low perch. Here they await the return of their parents that will be carrying their next meal.

Tawny Antpitta undergoing Preformative Molt (subspecies quitensis).

Spotted and barred juvenile body feathering and upperwing secondary coverts are being replaced with formative feathers. The bill and gape are turning from bright orange to dusky orange. At this stage in their development, young are able to make short flights and have become capable sprinters. Seen in the open less commonly than their parents, they still spend most of their time hidden within thick vegetation. More and more often, as the young improve their ability to forage on their own, gain the motor skills necessary to escape danger, and hone their vigilance skills, juveniles venture in the open in search of food.

Tawny Antpitta under going Preformative Molt or in Formative Plumage (subspecies quitensis). 

Brown formative feathers contrast with more worn and tawnier, buff-tipped juvenile feathers. Note especially the molt limit among the upperwing secondary coverts. Retained juvenile rectrices are relatively narrow and worn, with tawny or buff tips when fresh, that usually wear off during the first year. Some birds may undergo incomplete body-feather replacement, retaining juvenile feathers during the first year. The tertials remain as juvenile feathers on this individual.

Formative Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis). 

With out a trained eye, formative individuals are easily mistaken for fully adult birds. Only their patterned secondary upperwing coverts, that have been retained through most or all of their development since fledging, and the contrast between newer inner formative and older juvenile outer tertials, give away their age. This individual appears to have only one or two if its immature coverts remaining (look close!)

Formative Tawny Antpitta (subspeices quitensis).

Note the retained juvenile greater coverts. In this individual, note the spotting to the formative back feathers. Another indication of its immaturity is the hint of orange to its gape.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Definitive Basic Plumage is separated from Formative Plumage by having wing and tail feathers uniform in quality and relatively broad, fresh, and glossy. Molt limits among upperwing coverts are lacking, the outer greater coverts lacking distinct buff tips. The primary coverts lack buff tips and the primaries, secondaries, and rectrices are dark, glossy, and relatively broad and truncate at the tips, The long legs, as evident here, perfectly designed for running or bounding across the ground.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Although they spend most of their time on the ground, adults are frequent photographed on elevated perches, for obvious reasons. Note the truncate and broad rectrices, relatively dark brown and fresh as compared with juvenile rectrices of Formative Plumage.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

This individual is posed so as to illustrate its distinctive antpitta silouette. Note the uniformly fresh and glossy, basic wing and trail feathers.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Adults often sing from a conspicuous, exposed perch. Note the uniformly dark brown remiges and rectrices and lack of buff spots to the plumage.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Not surprisingly, when climbing to an exposed perch, often to sing, adults are particularly wary of predators. Although worn, this bird shows uniformly basic wing and tail feathers of Definitive Basic Plumage.

Definitive Basic Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis).

Like related species, adults frequently forage on the ground.

Tawny Antpitta undergoing Preformative Molt (subspecies quitensis). 

In Ecuador the Preformative Molt often occurs in January-March, following breeding, but it can occur at all times of year, here and elsewhere among the population. Back, wing, and flank feathers are being replaced. The fresh juvenile flight feathers (note the buff tips to the rectrices) and ornage bill are typical of birds undergoing post-fledging molts.

First-year Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis). 

Following fledging the bill color becomes duller orange with a dusky culmen, the ornage gape recedes, and the legs and feet become duskier.

Adult Tawny Antpitta (subspecies quitensis). 

In adults the bill is black to blackish gray, sometimes paler (brownish) near base of mandible. The iris is dark brown (sometimes tinged chestnut) and the orbital skin is gray. Leg and foot coloration has been described as pale to dark brownish, grayish to blackish (as here), olive-gray, and brownish gray.

Lateral view (subspecies alticola).
Frontal view (subspecies alticola).
Dorsal view (subspecies alticola).
Lateral view (subspecies quitensis).
Frontal view (subspecies quitensis).
Dorsal view (subspecies quitensis).
Bird in its habitat: Napo, Ecuador.
Bird in its habitat; Napo, Ecuador.
Bird in its habitat; Napo, Ecuador.
Bird in its habitat; Cajamarca, Peru.
Adult with earthworm.

Earthworms appear to be an important part of the diet of this species, and are frequently delivered to nestlings.

Adult with caterpillar.

Larval lepidopterans are likely captured most frequently when foraging above the ground.

Adult capturing a beetle larva.

Larval coleopterans are infrequently reported in the diet of this species, but may be more common than is presently known.

Adult vocalizing

Exposed perches such as this are unlikely places to see antpittas, with the exception of this inhabitant of the paramo.

Adult vocalizing

Already far-carrying, the sound of vocalizing individuals is inhanced when delivered from an elevated perch.

Adult vocalizing

This individual was captured with its head thrown back, in the middle of its song.

Adult vocalizing

The feathers of the throat are freqently fluffed out while vocalizing.

Adult vocalizing

The top of a dense shrub is a frequently-used perch for vocalizing.

Adult vocalizing

Elevated outcrops are ideal for projecting their song across the paramo.

Adult vocalizing

This individual has chosen an exposed location on the ground to vocalize, but is not far from the cover of dense vegetation.

Adult vocalizing

A noble representitive of its species, this indivdual was captured in mid-vocalization, perched on a cushion plant-covered outcrop.

Adult vocalizing

Vocalizing individuals often vocalize incessantly from the same perch for long periods.

Adult vocalizing

Although seemingly photographed less often, adults do vocalize from the ground.

Adult vocalizing

The tip of a Puya inflorescence is an often used site from which to vocalize.

Adult vocalizing

When other perches are not readily available, a fence-post will serve as an excellent place to vocalize.

Bird bathing.
Bird sunbathing.
Adult collecting nest material.

It is unproven, but strongly believed, that both sexes participate in nest construction. It is known, however, that both adult add material such as the thin fibers carried by this adult, to the nest lining during incubation.

Hatchling Tawny Antpittas in their nest

Young nestlings in nest, photographed within 3-4 days of hatching.

Dorsal view of hatchling Tawny Antpitta

Young nestling, photographed within 3-4 days of hatching.

Adult with food for nestlings.

Macaulay Library Photos for Tawny Antpitta

Top-rated photos submitted to the Macaulay Library via eBird. Note: Our content editors have not confirmed the species identification for these photos.

Recommended Citation

Greeney, H. F. and A. J. Spencer (2023). Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.