Junin Tapaculo: New Bird Species from Cloud Forests of Peru

Peruvian and U.S. ornithologists have described a new species of bird in the genus Scytalopus found on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Junin Department, Peru.

This is an artist’s rendering of the Junin Tapaculo, Scytalopus gettyae (The University of Kansas / KU News Service)

This is an artist’s rendering of the Junin Tapaculo, Scytalopus gettyae (The University of Kansas / KU News Service)

According to a study published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, the new species has a unique song that differs strikingly from that of any known Scytalopus species, consisting of a rapidly repeated series of ascending phrases.

The bird, named the Junin Tapaculo, is uniformly blackish in color and small-to-medium in size, most similar to the Blackish Tapaculo.

“The Junin Tapaculo is notable for its habit of sticking its tail straight up in the air. In appearance and behavior, the birds are similar to wrens, even though they are not closely related. They have been described as mouse-like and photophobic,” said lead author Peter Hosner, a doctoral student at the University of Kansas (KU).

“Tapaculos are recognized by ornithologists and birders as one of the most difficult bird families to observe in the field. They tend to be found near the ground in areas of thick, tangled vegetation. They’re active and almost never stop moving. Even if you can’t see the birds themselves, you can usually locate them by the movement of vegetation in their wake. They’re most easily seen by playing recordings of their songs to coax them out into the open. Because of this behavior, frustrated observers have suggested that tapaculos behave more like mice than they do birds.”

The scientific name of the species, Scytalopus gettyae, honors Caroline Marie Getty for her long-term dedication to nature preservation. “She has devoted significant time and effort to conservation, serving on boards for numerous organizations, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” the authors wrote.

The Junin Tapaculo’s range is limited to a specific band of elevation within the Andes Mountains – between about 8,000 and 10,500 feet (2,500 – 3,200 m).

“We found the Junin Tapaculo in the field by its distinctive voice,” Peter Hosner explained.

“I’d spent a lot of time traveling and working with birds in the Andes before I enrolled at KU, and I had never heard anything like it before. We made voice recordings and collected specimens that are needed in all scientific species descriptions.”

“In one archive, I found that birders had recorded the same unusual vocalizations, but on a different road about five kilometers away from our study site,” the ornithologist said. “They had tentatively identified the recordings as a different species of tapaculo – a species which occurs in the same area.”

“I also sequenced DNA and compared the sequences to known species. None matched. The appearance of the specimens, their unusual song and unique DNA convinced us it was new species – and I started writing up the description.”

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Bibliographic information: Hosner PA et al. 2013. A New Species of Scytalopus Tapaculo (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae) from the Andes of Central Peru. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 125 (2): 233-242; doi: 10.1676/12-055.1