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Rhinocryptidae – Tapaculos

Marsh Tapaculo in Brazil: Photo by Eduardo Franco

The Rhinocryptidae, commonly known as tapaculos, are a family of small, elusive birds found primarily in South and Central America. With their drab plumage and secretive behavior, they often remain hidden in dense vegetation, making them challenging to observe. Despite their inconspicuous appearance, they are known for their distinctively loud and varied songs, which help ornithologists identify their presence in the forest understory.

Overview of Rhinocryptidae

Tapaculos are elusive birds native to the Neotropics, often found in dense undergrowth habitats ranging from lowland forests to high-altitude puna. Their shy demeanor and cryptic plumage make them masters of concealment, typically only revealing their presence through repeated whistled calls. Many species are primarily ground-dwelling and exhibit limited flight, with some of the smallest, such as those in the genus Scytalopus, resembling mice more than birds as they scurry through dense vegetation. The name “tapaculo” stems from a Spanish phrase describing the habit of most species to cover their rump with their tail cocked over their back.