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Tawny Antpitta - Courageous Bird of the Cloud Forest

Updated on May 10, 2011
Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis) Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador
Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis) Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador | Source

The Antpitta is a very shy and elusive bird that lives in the cloud forests and rainforest of the neotropics. Its haunting call is heard much more often than it is seen. The Tawny Antpitta, however, is one species of these timid creatures that appears to have a more valiant nature, often appearing along roadsides and fields of the high Andes. 


The Tawny Antpitta is an inhabitant of the Andes Mountains, ranging from northern Colombia to northern Peru. Within Ecuador it can be found in the paramo and temperate zones from Carchi south to eastern El Oro and Loja. Although it is less numerous in the south, it is quite prominent on both slopes of the north and the central valley and can be observed at many localities surrounding Quito. It can often be seen along roadways or perched in low bushes, calling in a low but melodious tone across the sierra.


The Tawny Antpitta is a comical looking bird with its rotund body perched upon spindly legs. It almost seems as though its form never changed after it left the egg giving it the appearance of Humpty-Dumpty on stilts. This impression is aided by its evident lack of a visible tail.

Tawny Antpitta
Tawny Antpitta | Source

This diminutive bird, about 16.5 cm (6.5 in) in length, has a homogenous dull olive brown on its head, back and wings while exhibiting a yellowish-brown undercarriage that is often streaked with olive. The Tawny Antpitta displays a whitish eye-ring and lores (region between the bill and eye) and is a bit whiter on the throat and midbelly. Both the male and female are similar in appearance.

Similar Species

Although the Tawny Antpitta has the dull plumage similar to other birds in this family, it is unmistakable when observed in the wild. There are no other Antpittas that manifest the boldness that is displayed by this unassuming creature. While its cousins will hide amongst deep cover, this brave animal will appear along roadsides and agricultural borders, seemingly oblivious to any outside threat.

Habits and Habitats

The Tawny Antpitta can be found inhabiting the woodland, scrub and borders of the upper temperate zone and the paramo on both slopes. Mainly at altitudes from 3,000 – 4,500 m (10,000 – 15,000 ft), this bird is a prominent species of the sierra and can be heard throughout the region.

It commonly appears singly, often seen hopping about in open areas but not far from cover. In the early morning it can be observed along lightly traveled roadways, frequently perched atop small trees or shrubs. This tiny creature is fairly active, bouncing along the ground or in bushes, flicking its wings and tail while bobbing up and down on its lanky legs. These jocular antics will be accompanied by habitual calls, signaling other birds of its location or of impending danger.

The song of the Tawny Antpitta is very distinctive, loudly reverberating across the sparsely vegetated tundra of the paramo. It will perch on low branches while throwing its head and neck back, straining its throat to get maximum volume and distance.


The Tawny Antpitta is an amusing bird with a haunting voice and memorable song. It inhabits the high sierra of the Andes Mountains and can be observed guarding the scrub of the paramo tundra. When visiting Ecuador it can be located in many locations around Quito, but in particular if can be found at Antisana Reserve, Cotopaxi National Park, El Cajas National Park, Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge, Papallacta Pass, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Yanacocha Reserve.


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    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Pamela, it is one of my favorite birds, not so much for the color but because of its personality. Of all the Antpittas this one is the most daring.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Voted up and awesome. This little bird seems to be like the Greater Hill Mynah descendants here in Hawaii. They are always hop, hopping (always in pairs) along the roadway. They hop onto the roadway or highway to get little seeds and sometimes, unfortunately, they do not hop out of the way of fast cars -- fast enough. People here have to be very quick to look into their rear view mirrors before slamming on the car brakes to avoid these Mynahs.

      I like the coloring on the Tawny Antpitta and the luminescence of the breast feathers. Beautiful.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Apostle Jack. Here there are so many birds to learn. It is a never ending process

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 6 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      By you I will get to know a lot of bird names.Thanks for sharing.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you for the comment Kafsoa. Birds have a special personality that make then a joy to observe.

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 6 years ago

      It's interesting to watch birds especially this little cute guy "If you can do" Nice hub Colibri, keep on the good writings :)

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Stephanie, they are curious little creatures. You don't get to see them often but when you do it is a real treat.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 6 years ago from New Jersey

      This is such a cute little thing. I love the use of the word diminutive. It's perfect!