Restinga antwren (Formicivora littoralis)

GenusFormicivora (1)
SizeLength: 12.5 cm (2)

The restinga antwren is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The restinga antwren (Formicivora littoralis) is a rare and highly specialised bird, restricted to a small and distinct coastal ecosystem in eastern Brazil (3). The male is largely black in colour, except for white wing bars, white around the shoulders, and white spots near the tip of the tail. The female is more rufous-brown in colour, particularly on the upper parts, and has a whitish eyebrow and buffy-cream underparts (2) (4). Although originally described in 1990 as a subspecies of the Serra antwren (Formicivora serrana), the restinga antwren was swiftly elevated to full species status on account of its distinct appearance, range and ecology (5). 

The restinga antwren has a highly restricted range along a strip of dunes on the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil (2) (6) (7).

As its name suggests, this species is endemic to restinga, a beach scrub habitat rich in cacti and bromeliads (2) (6). Very few other birds are found in this unique and specialised habitat (3).

The restinga antwren typically forages in pairs, remaining close to the ground in dense thickets, where it is safe from predators (2) (7) (8). Like other antwrens, insects and other invertebrates are its main food source (6) (7) (8). Breeding appears to take place year round, with pairs constructing a deep, open-cup nest around two metres above the ground in the branch of a tree. The clutch size is two, and the sexes share incubation and parental care duties (2) (8).   

The restricted habitat on which the restinga antwren depends is under enormous pressure from beachfront development for housing and holiday resorts, and from the salt industry (2) (3) (5) (7). Owing to a burgeoning human population in the region, squatters are also posing an additional threat to its habitat, while nest predation by alien predators has become a problem more recently (3). If further habitat loss and degradation continues, this highly specialised species is at high risk of going extinct (2) (3). However, recent surveys have shown that its range may extend further than previously estimated, and as a result its conservation status may warrant downlisting to Endangered in the future (2) (5).

Although small amounts of restinga habitat are protected within three designated areas, enforcement has been relatively ineffective, with clearance of vegetation still occurring within the reserves’ boundaries (2) (3). Fortunately, conservation efforts have proliferated in recent years, particularly since SAVE Brasil appointed local NGO, Pingo D'água, BirdLife Species Guardian for the restinga antwren. This valuable partnership is supporting further research into the restinga antwren’s ecology, as well as an awareness campaign aimed at local schools, the preparation of a Species Action Plan, the removal of alien predators such as the common marmoset, and the creation of a new reserve which will afford far greater protection to the area then currently exists (2) (3) (7) (9). It is hoped that these admirable efforts will result in the restinga antwren’s recovery, and in doing so set a precedent for the vital protection of other species facing similar threats (3).

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. BirdLife International (February, 2010)
  3. Birdfair – British Birdwatching Fair  (February, 2010)
  4. Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994) The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines. Volume II. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  5. Mattos, J.C.F., Vale, M.M., Vecchi, M.B. and Alves, M.A.S. (2009) Abundance, distribution and conservation of the Restinga Antwren Formicivora littoralis. Bird Conservation International, 19: 392-400.
  6. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Hirschfeld, E. (2008) Rare Birds Yearbook 2009. MagDig Media Limited, UK.
  8. BirdLife International (1992) Restinga antwren Formicivora littoralis. In: BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  9. SAVE Brasil (February, 2010)