Grallariidae – Antpittas & allies

Enigmatic ground-dwelling birds, blending into the forest floor and captivating with their unique calls

Hosting the intriguing antpittas, it comprises a group of small to medium-sized birds that are endemic to the humid forests of Central and South America. These birds are characterized by their elusive nature, often heard rather than seen, due to their preference for the dense understory of the forest floor.

Antpittas has a distinctive appearance with their plump bodies, short wings, and relatively long tails, which are not often visible as they move through the leaf litter and underbrush. They have sturdy legs and feet, which are adapted for walking and hopping on the ground and for digging and kicking the soil as they search for their prey. This ground-dwelling behavior is a signature trait of the family, setting them apart from many other forest birds that tend to forage higher in the canopy.

Their diet is mainly composed of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms, and occasionally small vertebrates, which they locate by sight and sound, often using a sit-and-wait hunting strategy. The antpittas’ feeding habits contribute to the control of invertebrate populations in the forest ecosystem and soil aeration through their foraging actions.

Antpittas are known for their loud and melodious calls, which vary widely between species and are often the best indicator of their presence. Their calls are used to establish territories, attract mates, and communicate with each other in the dense vegetation where visibility is limited.

Nesting habits in the Grallariidae family are not well documented due to the secretive nature of these birds. However, it is known that antpittas build their nests on the ground or in low vegetation, making them vulnerable to predators. Their nests are usually a simple cup shape, well-concealed, and made from plant material like leaves and moss.

The family’s name, Grallariidae, derives from the Latin “grallae,” meaning stilts, which refers to their relatively long legs. Combined with their upright posture, this gives antpittas a distinctive silhouette among the forest floor’s foliage.