Donacobiidae – Donacobius

Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla ©James Lowen Website

The black-capped donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla) is a conspicuous, vocal South American bird. It is found in tropical swamps and wetlands in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela; also Panama of Central America

The black-capped donacobius is the only member of the genus Donacobius. Formerly of uncertain taxonomy the Black-capped Donacobius has now been adjudged to form a family of its own. Its familial placement is not established, and ornithologists disagree as to its closest relations.

In the 19th century, it was placed in the Turdidae, and in the 20th century, moved to the Mimidae. It had various English names, including the ‘Black-capped Mockingthrush’. In the 1980s and 1990s, suggestions that it was a type of wren Troglodytidae were accepted by the South American Classification Committee (SACC), the American Ornithologists Union (AOU) and most other authorities. More recently, listing organizations and authors follow Van Remsen and Keith Barker’s conclusion that it is not a wren either, but instead most closely related to an Old World (probably African) lineage.

Black-capped donacobiuses are common in a wide range of Amazonian wetlands, including oxbow lakes, riparian zones, and other areas with tall dense aquatic or semi-aquatic vegetation. A third of the species range is outside the Amazon Basin, from Panama, northern Colombia, and western Venezuela, the Orinoco River system of Venezuela, to southeast coastal and inland Brazil, and neighboring countries southward, Paraguay, and extreme northern Argentina. There is just the one species:

Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla

Species Links
  • Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla

    Species Account
    The Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla) is a conspicuous, vocal South American bird. It is found in tropical swamps and wetlands in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela; also Panama of Central America…
  • Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Turdus[] atricapilla Linnaeus, 1766, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa; error = Brazil. Taxonomy long disputed: has frequently been thought to belong in family Mimidae, arguments for which treatment include large size, morphology (long tail, short rounded wings, heavy feet and legs), open cup-nest, and rambunctious and extroverted behaviour; in contrast, its well-developed social structure (with duetting vocalizations and mutual display) is very reminiscent of some troglodytids, notably in genus Campylorhynchus, in addition to which anatomical studies argue in favour of placement in present family; recent DNA studies, however, strongly suggest that this species is neither a mimid nor a troglodytid, but an aberrant “sylvioid”, a group that includes the babblers (Timaliidae) and the Old World warblers (Sylviidae). Species name often erroneously emended to atricapillus, but atricapilla is a Latin noun and is thus invariable. Four subspecies recognized.
  • Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Black-capped Donacobius Donacobius atricapilla

    Cornell Species Account
    The Black-capped Donacobius is a familiar sight in marshes and wet pastures across much of South America, often calling attention to itself with loud, duetting calls. This distinctive bird long resisted efforts by ornithologists to classify it. Formerly it was known as the "Black-capped Mockingthrush," when it was thought to belong to the New World family of thrashers and mockingbirds (Mimidae), but it now is recognized as the sole member of a family with affinities to with Old World warblers.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 1

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