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Two Tapaculos

New tapaculos from Colombia…

Two new bird species have been described from the Cordillera Central mountains of Colombia, both of them tapaculos in the genus Scytalopus.

The first, published in The Auk (122(2): 445–463), is Stiles’s Tapaculo Scytalopus stilesi. Unidentified tapaculos have been observed in the northern Cordillera Central for a decade, and when Niels Krabbe examined recordings of their songs, his suspicions arose that they were a new species. Stiles’s Tapaculo’s song is considerably faster and lower-pitched than that of the closely related Ecuadorian Tapaculo S. robbinsi. Furthermore, it is genetically distinct and retains its integrity throughout a 300 km stretch of the Cordillera Central where it occupies montane forest between 1,420 and 2,130 m altitude. In this limited area it is a common understorey bird and is known from 21 localities, including several protected areas.The second new species is the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo S. rodriguezi. Its discovery is similar to Stiles’s Tapaculo, since the presence of an unknown tapaculo in the Finca Merenberg mountains of the southern Cordillera Central has been known since the 1980s. Although recordings were made in 1986, ornithologists were unable to rule out the possibility that they were the unknown song of the confusus race of Northern White-crowned Tapaculo S. atratus, since political instability meant access to the area for further study was unsafe during the 1990s.

"It was frustrating, waiting for years knowing there were new species to be discovered and protected. —Paul Salaman, Fundación ProAves “It was frustrating, waiting for years knowing there were new species to be discovered and protected, says Paul Salaman of Fundación ProAves, one of the expedition members who describes the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo in Bull. B.O.C. (125(2): 93–108). Then we learned it was safe to visit the Finca Merenberg mountains and soon found the new species in dense understorey of primary forest. In appearance it’s very like other Scytalopus tapaculos, but has a distinctive voice."The song is amongst the simplest of any Scytalopus, consisting of a single note repeated at a pace of 4–5 per second, usually given in bouts of 2–5 phrases.

Currently the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo is known from two localities on the east slope of the Cordillera Central at 2,000–2,300 m elevation. The species’ presumed area of occupancy is heavily deforested and its remaining suitable forest habitat may cover 169 km2 or less. One of the locations, Merenberg Reserve, was Colombia’s first private protected area, although the site is known to be rapidly deteriorating through selective logging, and the authors have recommended the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo is classified as Endangered.

Tapaculos are generally dark coloured and skulk in thick forest undergrowth, making them notoriously difficult to study in the field. They have subtle plumage variations, some of them age-related, although there is much individual variation, as well as differences between species. Some taxonomists regard Scytalopus tapaculos as the most complicated of all Neotropical genera. Voice is the most important aid to their identification, and study of birds in the northern Andes has already led to the description of three new species, and the elevation of several former subspecies to specific level in Ecuador.

The proposed specific status for stilesi and rodriguezi will be assessed by BirdLife International in due course, noting any decision made by the South American Classification Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union. If treated as full species, their conservation status will be evaluated by BirdLife, the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

4th July 2014