Chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus)

GenusCalyptophilus (1)
SizeLength: 17 - 20 cm (2)

The chat-tanger is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus) is a petite, shy bird, which spends most of its time hiding in dense scrub. However, it is one of the first birds to be heard singing at dawn in the mountain forests it inhabits (3), its song a beautiful, whistling ‘chip-chip-swerp-swerp-swerp’ (2). This species is also easily identifiable by its chatty, buzzy call and its short, sharp ‘check’ vocalisation (3). 

The adult chat-tanager has dark brown upperparts, a white belly and long tail feathers. The underside of the wing is paler than the rest of the body, and has a yellowish band of feathers (2). An incomplete, pale yellow ring around the eye is present in all subspecies (3) (4). The female chat-tanager is typically smaller than the male (3) (4). The nestling is pale pink with a whiter gape than the adult and juvenile chat-tanagers, and is covered in long, fine black down (5).

Four subspecies of chat-tanager are currently recognised: the northeast chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus frugivorus), western chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus teritus), eastern chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus neibae) and Gonave chat-tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus abbotti). These differ mainly in their size and colouration (2) (3).

The chat-tanager is endemic to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. C. f. frugivorus is found in the northeast of the Dominican Republic on the Samana peninsula, C. f. abbotti is isolated on Gonave Island off the coast of Haiti and C. f. neibae is found in the Sierra de Neiba, in the central mountainous region of the Dominican Republic. C. f. teritus is found in the southwest of the Dominican Republic, along the coastal mountain range of the Sierra de Bahuoruco, and further west into the scrub land of southern Haiti (2).

On the mainland, the chat-tanager lives in dense thickets within wet, broadleaf-pine forests. It usually lives at altitudes of between 600 and 2,300 metres in the mountains, though C. f. abbotti and C. f. frugivorus have been recorded below this (2) (5).

C. f. abbotti inhabits the semi-arid scrub of Gonave Island (2) (5).

The chat-tanager’s scientific name, frugivorus, is misleading as it feeds mainly on invertebrates such as spiders, worms, beetles and grubs, rather than fruit (2) (3).

The breeding ecology of the chat-tanager has been described for the western subspecies C. f. teritus. Usually found just over a metre above the ground, the large nest of this subspecies is built among dense vegetation from twigs, vines, leaves, lichens, moss and feathers to form a partially domed structure. Generally, clutches of two eggs are incubated by the female between mid-May and mid-June. The eggs are about three centimetres long and are mottled and speckled with brown on a pale blue background. Eggs and nestlings of the chat-tanager are often lost to predators such as rats and feral cats (5).

The female broods the chicks and maintains the nest, clearing it of faeces and broken egg shells. Both adult birds feed the chicks, although the male will spend much of its time foraging for invertebrates which are then given to the female to feed to the nestlings. Between short periods of brooding, the female chat-tanager flies back and forth from the nest, feeding the nestlings with grubs and insects. The female will always return to the nest using the same pattern of perches, changing its vocalisations from a ‘chip-chip’ to a more even ‘tick-tick-tick’ as it gets nearer. The male sings in short bursts, standing on different perches within ten metres of the nest (5).

Habitat loss is the main threat to the chat-tanager (2). The wet forests inhabited by this species used to represent over half of the vegetation on Haiti and the Dominican Republic; however, much of these have now been lost, resulting in the classification of this fragile ecoregion as endangered by the WWF. Agricultural expansion, felling for firewood and forest clearing for grazing all contribute to the loss of the wet, broadleaf-pine forests (6).

Predation of nests by introduced predators, including feral cats, black rats (Rattus rattus) and brown rats (Rattus norvegicus), limits the reproductive efforts of the chat-tanager (5).

The chat-tanager inhabits various national parks, including Macaya and La Visite National Parks in Haiti, and the Sierra de Baoruco National Park and the Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve in the Dominican Republic. More research is needed to resolve the taxonomy of this species, and to determine whether all subspecies are still extant (2).

Recommended conservation measures for the chat-tanager include trying to improve and safeguard existing protected areas, and to establish new reserves in areas of suitable habitat (2).

 More information on the chat-tanager:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
  2. BirdLife International (November, 2011)
  3. Wetmore, A. and Swales, B.H. (1931) The Birds of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.
  4. Rimmer, C.C., Almonte, J., Garrido, E., Mejia, D.A., Milagros, M. and Wieczoreck, P. (2003) Bird records in a montane forest fragment of western Sierra de Neiba, Dominican Republic. The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology, 16(1): 55-61.
  5. Rimmer, C.C., Woolaver, L.G., Nichols, R.K., Fernandez, E.M., Latta, S.C. and Garrido, E. (2008) First description of nests and eggs of two Hispaniolan endemic species: Western chat-tanager (Calyptophilus teritus) and Hispaniolan highland-tanager (Xenoligea montana). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1): 190-195.
  6. WWF report: Hispaniolan moist forest (November, 2011)