Moustached turca (Pteroptochos megapodius)
|Size||Length: 22 - 24 cm (2) (3)|
|Weight||95 - 135 g (2)|
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The moustached turca is a fairly conspicuous bird, cutting a distinctive figure as it runs between bushes or perches on its stilt-like legs, with the tail held erect, often almost touching the back (3) (4) (5). The body is greyish-brown, becoming more reddish on the wings, rump and tail, with a reddish-brown breast. The whitish underparts and flanks show a variable amount of black or brown barring, and the beak, long legs and large feet are black. The supercilium (‘eyebrow’) and chin are white, and a broad, white, moustache-like streak on the sides of the throat and neck distinguish the moustached turca from other species and give it its common name (2) (3) (4). The juvenile is a more cinnamon or dusky colour, with cinnamon lower underparts and only faint, brown barring on the flanks (2).
Two subspecies of moustached turca are recognised: Pteroptochos megapodius megapodius, and Pteroptochos megapodius atacamae, the ‘northern moustached turca’, which is smaller and paler, with less barring on the underparts. The moustached turca is a very vocal bird, and its loud, resonant song - a descending scale of gurgling “wook” notes - is distinctive. Other calls include single “guerk” notes and a single, sharp whistle (2) (3) (4).
The moustached turca is endemic to Chile. P. m. megapodius occurs in central Chile, from Coquimbo to Concepción, while P. m. atacamae ranges further north, in Atacama (2) (3) (4).
Inhabiting matorral, as well as scrubby and semi-open slopes, the moustached turca can be found at altitudes of up to 3,500 metres (2) (3) (4). P. m. atacamae can be found in semi-desert areas, often where there are rocky outcrops and loose earth (2) (4).
The moustached turca is thought to feed mainly on insects and worms, as well as some berries and seeds (2) (4). Living mainly on the ground, the bird can often be seen walking and running in the open, scraping the ground with its strong claws and sometimes moving surprisingly large stones as it forages (2) (3). Breeding occurs between September and December, although nest construction usually starts earlier than this, with both the male and female helping to excavate a long burrow in a hillside or bank. The burrow can measure up to an impressive three metres in length, and ends in a widened chamber, which is lined with dry grass (2) (4) (6). Two to three white eggs are laid (2) (4), but little else is known about the breeding biology of this species.
The moustached turca still has a large population and is not currently considered globally threatened (2) (7). No specific threats to the species are known, although its restricted range within Chile may render it vulnerable to any local threats to its habitat or population. In particular, the Chilean matorral region is under threat from human activities including mining, logging, urbanisation, conversion for agriculture, and fires, as well as the introduction of non-native species (8) (9).
The moustached turca occurs within several protected areas within Chile, including La Campana National Park (2). No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the species, but effective protection of its habitat may be important in preventing future declines.
To read more about the moustached turca and other Chilean bird species, see:
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2003) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 8: Broadbills to Tapaculos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Aves de Chile (in Spanish):
To find out more about the Chilean matorral ecoregion, and the threats it faces, see:
WildWorld Ecoregion Profile - Chilean Matorral:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Matorral: Spanish for ‘thicket’; in Chile, this refers to a Mediterranean scrub region, bound by the Atacama Desert in the north, the Valdivian forests in the south, the Andes in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west. The only Mediterranean scrub ecoregion in South America, and one of only five in the world, the Chilean matorral is characterised by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, and contains a wide variety of endemic plant species.
IUCN Red List (February, 2009)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2003) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 8: Broadbills to Tapaculos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994) The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines. Volume II. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
Aves de Chile (March, 2009)
Darwin, C. (1846) Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World under the Command of Capt. FitzRoy, R.N. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, New York. Available at:
- Santibáñez, H.T. and Cerda, M.T. (2004) Los Parques Nacionales de Chile: Una Guía Para el Visitante. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, Chile.
BirdLife International (February, 2009)
WildWorld Ecoregion Profile: Chilean Matorral (March, 2009)
WWF: Chilean Matorral (March, 2009)