Ash-breasted tit-tyrant (Anairetes alpinus)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyTyrannidae
GenusAnairetes (1)
SizeAverage head-body length: 13 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The ash-breasted tit-tyrant is a member of the Tyrannidae family, one of the world’s largest and most diverse groups of birds. The most distinctive feature of this diminutive species is the black crest that protrudes conspicuously from the head, exposing a white crown. The plumage is a somewhat drab plain grey-white that is slightly darker on the upperparts, with faint streaking on the shoulders, and as the common name suggests, ashy-grey on the breast. The wings are black with contrasting white wing bars (2). Two subspecies of the ash-breasted tit-tyrant are recognised: Anairetes alpinus bolivianus is distinguished from the nominate subspecies, A. a. alpinus, by white in the centre of the belly, rather than yellowish-white (2) (3).

The ash-breasted tit-tyrant is found in several widely separated populations, scattered across the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. A. a. alpinus is found in the Cordilleras Central and Occidental in north-western Peru, while A. a. bolivianus is found in the Cordillera Oriental, Peru, and the Cordillera Real, Bolivia (2) (4).

The ash-breasted tit-tyrant is only found in semi-humid mixed Polylepis woodland, a high altitude habitat dominated by shrubs and grasses that is unique to the Andes, between 3,700 and 4,500 metres. It is most abundant in mature woodlands that support a rich diversity of insects (2) (4).

A little studied, inconspicuous species, the biology of the ash-breasted tit tyrant is poorly understood (4). Observed foraging in both small family groups and alone, this tiny bird gleans insects from the outer branches of shrubs and small trees. It may also alight upon an exposed perch, and make repeated forays to catch insects out of the air, and will occasionally drop to the ground or climb tree trunks to catch prey (4) (5).

Most tyrant flycatchers are monogamous, and remain with their partner year round, often fiercely defending permanent territories. Vocalisations of weak whistles and warbled notes, most often at dawn, are used to maintain territories, while males also use calls in courtship displays (5). Breeding in the ash-breasted tit-tyrant appears to take place late in the dry season with the female constructing a small, compact, cup-shaped nest in a bush (4). The female will then incubate the clutch of eggs, whilst the male defends the territory and nest site (5).

Restricted to Polylepis woodlands, a highly degraded and depleted habitat, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant is extremely vulnerable to habitat loss (2). Polylepis woodlands have suffered from centuries of pressure, and now exist in relic fragments scattered across the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes (6). Agriculture has progressively encroached upon this habitat, while heavy grazing by livestock, which has been particularly intense since the introduction of sheep, has limited its natural regeneration. This has been exacerbated in areas where Polylepis woodland is exploited for firewood, charcoal production and logging, and where competitive exotic trees, such as Eucalyptus, have been introduced (2). Consequently, around 50 percent of natural woodlands have been lost from Abra Malaga in Peru, and an alarming 26 percent of original diversity may have already been lost (4) (6). Facing such intense pressure, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant has undergone a drastic decline, and now the population is near critically low levels (2).  

Although found in a number of protected areas, including the actively managed Huascarán National Park, the ash-breasted tit-tyrant urgently requires conservation action (2). Recognising this, the American Bird Conservancy in collaboration with Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos, a Peruvian conservation organisation, is working to preserve and restore Polylepis habitat. Over 120,000 plants have been successfully planted, while local families have been provided with alternative firewood (7).The ash-breasted tit-tyrant will also benefit from the implementation of a wealth of proposed measures, including improved land-use management and community awareness programmes (2). Furthermore, two key areas have been identified for the conservation of Polylepis specialist birds, and it is hoped that with the implementation of conservation measures in these areas, the future of many rare species will be secured (8).

For more information on the conservation of the ash-breasted tit-tyrant, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Birdlife International (March, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=4173&m=0
  3. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (March, 2010)
    http://www.itis.gov/
  4. Birdlife International (2002) Threatened Birds of the Americas. Birdlife International, Cambridge, UK.
  5. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Fjeldsa, J. (2002) Polylepis forests – vestiges of a vanishing ecosystem in the Andes. Ecotropica, 8: 111-123.
  7. The American Bird Conservancy (March, 2010)
    http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/international/action/polylepis.html
  8. Fjeldsa, J. (2002) Key areas for conserving the avifauna of Polylepis forests. Ecotropica, 8: 125-131.