Tawny Antpitta Grallaria quitensis Scientific name definitions

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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


Though one of the most visibly prominent antpitta species, the Tawny Antpitta is still far more often heard than seen, a characteristic sound of the páramo. Pronounced vocal variation deserves further study, and it is likely that the current species will be split with further research.



Poorly known. Song known from subadult birds , but no other information.

Vocal Array

“Northern” group

Song. This is the most irregularly paced song of the various vocal groups, consisting of an initial overslurred note, a short pause, and then 3‒5 notes in a stuttered series. The entire song lasts ca. 1.0‒1.5 s, at around 2 kHz. Some variation, with the most common version containing three notes in the terminal stuttered series, but others with up to five notes that also rise slightly in pitch. An exceptional variant has up to nine terminal notes, decreasing in pitch and volume towards the end of the song.

Call. As with other vocal groups within the species, the call consists of a single note usually given repeatedly. The most common variation is a long (ca. 0.3‒0.4 s), relatively even-pitched (at ca. 2.1‒2.2 kHz) clear note that has a noticeable clip at the beginning and end. Some variants are a bit higher pitched (up to ca. 3 kHz) , and descend slightly, but never nearly as steeply as the call in the “Western” group.

“Western“ group

Song. Likely the song that most birders think of for the Tawny Antpitta, this is a simple, three-note vocalization that starts with a short, even, overslurred note followed by a pause, and then two slightly longer overslurred notes at a slightly lower pitch in quick succession. The entire song lasts ca. 1.1‒1.3 s, and over most of the range at ca. 1.9‒2.0 kHz. It has a rather abrupt, clipped quality. Relatively minor variation over most of the range, with some notes more rounded than the more common ”flat-topped” shape. Other rare variants can have only two notes, or three lower-pitched (1.4–1.5 kHz) notes, or with first the lowest of the three notes. The poorly recorded population in Antioquia, Colombia is apparently distinctive (see B2 in Figure 1), notably higher pitched (ca. 2.3 kHz), with a more rounded and ”taller” note shape, imparting a more whistled quality to the song. More research is needed and more recordings desired to elucidate the true range of variation.

Call. This is a loud, explosive, strongly downslurred note that falls from ca. 4.0 to 1.3 kHz, and lasts around 0.3‒0.4 s. Most variants have a subtle break in the middle of the note, and a clipped beginning and ending that contribute to the abrupt quality of the note. Much more strongly falling in pitch than the calls in the ”Northern” group, this call also sounds less clear in tone. The calls of the Antioquia population are unknown.

“Southern“ group

Song. The song is quite similar to the song of the ”Western” group: an initial overslurred note followed by a pause and then two more notes. However, the final note is notably longer and rises slightly in pitch, and the entire song is noticeably higher pitched (ca. 2.1‒2.3 kHz). Most versions are also longer than songs of the ”Western” group, at ca. 1.5 s. Relatively poorly recorded compared to the more northerly groups, so the range of variation not well known.

Call. Very different from any other vocalization among Tawny Antpittas, the call here is a complex, long note (ca. 0.6‒0.7 s) that starts as an evenly pitched, finely modulated buzz before ending in a clearer descending-ascending flourish (xeno-canto: XC162). Very few recordings are available, so the range of variation is poorly understood.

Geographic Variation

See above for more information on the three main vocal groups.


Little information; available recordings span the entire year.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Typically most vocal at and near dawn, but can be heard all day.

Places of Vocalizing

The Tawny Antpitta vocalizes from both the ground and on prominent perches in the páramo. When vocalizing from the ground, an individual will often move to a new location between each song or call. It also sings from the nest while incubating (169, 178; see Incubation: Other Behaviors).

Sex Differences

No information.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Little information; the only studies center around song repertoire and delivery rates of incubating adults (see Incubation: Other Behaviors).

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Little information. Among the species formerly considered part of the Rufous Antpitta, vocalizations are divided into Long and Short Songs. It may be that what is described as ”call” here is analogous to the Short Song of the Rufous Antpitta clades, but more research needed. However, the Call also appears to function as both an alarm vocalization and a contact call among nesting individuals (see Incubation: Other Behaviors).

Nonvocal Sounds

None documented.

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.