Long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger)

Spanish: Pájaro-paraguas Longuipendulo
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCotingidae
GenusCephalopterus (1)
SizeLength: 51 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES (3).

The long-wattled umbrellabird gains its name from the rather bizarre and striking features of the male of the species. The male bird has a large crest, composed of hair-like feathers, extending over the bill, and a long, black feathered wattle hanging from the middle of the chest (2) (4). The wattle reaches a length of up to 45 centimetres (5) and can be inflated during courtship, when it resembles a large, open pine cone (6). During flight, it is retracted and held against the chest (7). The female and juvenile resemble the male but are smaller, and both the crest and wattle are greatly reduced (4). The long-wattled umbrellabird is usually silent, except during displays, when the male makes a protracted grunting noise (7), as well as a low-frequency booming call that is audible to humans at a distance of up to one kilometre away (5).

The long-wattled umbrellabird is found in a relatively narrow belt along the western slopes of the Andes, from the San Juan River in Colombia down to southern Ecuador (4). Its range falls within the Chocó Biogeographical Region, a 100,000 square kilometre area of humid forest in western Colombia and north-western Ecuador, which is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world (8).

Found in both humid and wet forest, the long-wattled umbrellabird occupies a range of altitudes from 80 to 1,800 metres (2).

While much of the long-wattled umbrellabird’s breeding biology is still unclear (9) (10), its courtship behaviour is known to be complex and elaborate (4) (9). Throughout the year, male birds can be found gathered at established sites, termed “leks”, where they make exuberant displays to the female birds (4) (10). The male uses a combination of raising its crest, swinging its wattle, and making grunting vocalisations to attract a mate (4). After mating, the female is solely responsible for building the nest, incubating the eggs and brooding the chicks (9) (10).

Puzzlingly, in at least one part of its range, male long-wattled umbrellabird displaying activity peaks during the dry season (August to December), around six months before the period of greatest female nesting activity (10). It is not yet clear why this disparity occurs, but possibly it is because the male relies on large quantities of fruit, which may be more abundant during the dry season, to sustain its energetic display (10). In contrast, when nesting, the female may be more dependent on the abundance of insects in the rainy season to give the energy and nutrients required to produce eggs and brood chicks (9) (10). In order to maximize chances of offspring survival at this time, it is thought that the female birds might either store male sperm for a long period after mating in the dry season, or they may mate with the small proportion of superior males still capable of displaying at the leks during the rainy season (10).

The consumption of large quantities of fruit means that the long-wattled umbrellabird plays an important ecological role within its habitat as a seed dispersal agent. Along with fruit, this opportunistic species will also take large insects, amphibians and reptiles (2) (8) (9).

The primary threat to the long-wattled Umbrellabird is habitat loss. This species is endemic to the Chocó rainforests and depends upon primary rainforest habitat, which is disappearing rapidly due to human colonisation (5). The improvement of transport networks has allowed the destructive activities of logging, mining, and conversion to agriculture and plantations to expand into previously undisturbed remote areas (2). Not only does this loss and degradation destroy numerous display and nesting sites, but the increased human presence around those that remain may well lead to reduced breeding success (9).

Hunting pressure on the long-wattled umbrellabird is a lesser, but still important threat to this species’ survival (2) (5). During courtship displays, the gathered males become an easy target for hunters, who sell them locally, and sometimes internationally, as cage birds (4).

In western Colombia, the long-wattled umbrellabird’s range includes two large national parks, Los Farallones de Cali and Munchique. Population surveys within these sites are necessary to evaluate whether they represent important strongholds for this species and should be targeted for specific conservation efforts (2). In western Ecuador, the long-wattled umbrellabird occurs within a number of protected areas. Despite many of these sites harbouring significant populations, illegal logging, hunting and colonisation remain threats to this species and its habitat. Increased law enforcement of these areas is required if they are to provide an effective refuge for threatened species. The Center for Tropical Research, a conservation and research organisation, is currently working to provide effective conservation action for the forests of north-western Ecuador. The organisation’s work includes research into the biology of the long-wattled umbrellabird and surveys of its population, which will help towards developing conservation strategies for this unusual species (8).

For more information on conservation in north-west Ecuador see:

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

Authenticated (16/01/09) by Dr Jordan Karubian, Latin America Director for the Center for Tropical Research, UCLA.
http://www.ioe.ucla.edu/CTR/staff/Karubian_Jordan.html

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (January, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  3. CITES (January, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Hildyard, A. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  5. Karubian, J. (2009) Pers. comm.
  6. Scott, T. (1995) Concise Encyclopedia Biology. Walter de Gruyter, New York.
  7. Hilty, S.L. and Brown, B. (1986) A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  8. The Center for Tropical Research (January, 2009)
    http://www.ioe.ucla.edu/CTR/research/Ecuador/choco_rainforest.html
  9. Karubian, J., Castañeda, G., Freile, J.F., Salazar, R.T., Santander, T. and Smith, T.B. (2003) Nesting biology of a female long-wattled umbrellabird Cephalopterus penduliger in north-western Ecuador. Bird Conservation International, 13: 351 - 360.
  10. Tori, W.P., Durães, R., Ryder, T.B., Anciães, M., Karubian, J., Macedo, R.H., Uy, J.A.C., Parker, P.G., Smith, T.B., Stein, A.C., Webster, M.S., Blake, J.G. and Loiselle, B.A. (2008) Advances in sexual selection theory: insights from tropical avifauna. Ornitologia Neotropical, 19: 151 - 163.