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Ant Thrushes: Formicariidae - Physical Characteristics

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Ant thrushes, also called antbirds, antcatchers, antpittas, antshrikes, or antwrens, are a family of small to medium-sized perching songbirds found in the rainforests of Central and South America. There are two major divisions within the ant thrush family, based on where the birds spend most of their time. About fifty-six species live on or near the forest floor and as a group are called ground antbirds. About 188 species live in the canopy, or forest treetops. These birds are sometimes called typical antbirds.

The bodies of antbirds vary in length from 4 to about 15 inches (10 to 38 centimeters). Some antbirds have short, stiff tails that they hold upright, while others have tails as long as their body that droop. Ground antbirds tend to be larger than canopy-dwelling antbirds and have longer, stronger legs and short toes for running and hopping. Antbirds that live in the canopy have developed special longer toes that allow them to grip thin branches for long periods without using much energy.

Antbirds do not migrate, or move seasonally from one region to another. As a result, they have evolved, changed over time, to have stubby, rounded, relatively weak wings that are best suited for flying only short distances.

Antbirds eat mainly insects. Their bills are specially designed for this task. Antbird bills curve slightly downward and in some of the larger species have a hook at the tip. Larger species of antbirds also have a "tooth," or rough spot, inside the bill that helps them to hold on to or tear up food. Smaller antbirds have a smooth bill and no "tooth."

Antbirds are not the most colorful birds in the rainforest. In fact, they are rather dull. They range in color from black to gray to brown. Male and female ground antbirds usually look quite similar. However, canopy-dwelling males are often black or gray with some white feathers, while females are brown and often marked with a pattern of light and dark spots. Their coloring makes them difficult to see on the forest floor or among the shifting shadows and sunlight of the canopy.


Ant Thrushes: Formicariidae - Diet [next]

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