Royal cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae)
|Size||Length: 20 - 21 cm (2)|
|Weight||50 g (2)|
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Named for its occurrence in the Cordillera Real of South America (3), the royal cinclodes is a fairly large ovenbird (member of the Furnariidae family) with dark plumage, a large, down-curved beak and a relatively short tail. The body, face and crown are dark chocolate brown, with whitish mottling and streaking on the breast, a pale buffy-white line above the eye, and a whitish, slightly mottled throat, the white extending over the sides of the neck. The wings are dark, with a prominent reddish-brown edge which forms a distinct wing-bar in flight. The beak is black, and the legs and feet are dark pinkish-grey to black (2) (4). The male and female royal cinclodes are similar in appearance (2). The calls of this species include a loud, high-pitched trilling song, raspy calls and a somewhat nasal kiu or kee (2) (4).
The royal cinclodes was previously considered conspecific with the very similar stout-billed cinclodes, Cinclodes excelsior, but can be distinguished by its slightly darker plumage, more buffy-coloured line above the eye, and more distinct wing-band, as well as by slight differences in its habitat preferences (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The royal cinclodes also resembles the bar-winged cinclodes, Cinclodes fuscus, but is larger, with a stouter beak, and a reddish-brown rather than whitish wing-band (4) (5) (6).
The royal cinclodes occurs in the Andes of southeast Peru (in the departments of Cuzco, Apurímac, Puno and Junín) and adjacent western Bolivia (La Paz) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). Its overall distribution has decreased in recent times (4), although in 2008 the species was recorded around 300 kilometres northwest of its known range, suggesting it may be more widespread than had previously been thought (4) (7) (8).
This rare species inhabits tiny, humid patches of Polylepis woodland and montane scrub on steep, rocky slopes, at elevations of around 3,500 to 4,800 metres (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). More recently, it has also been recorded in Gynoxis shrubland, and individuals may temporarily descend to lower elevations during periods of snow (4) (7).
The royal cinclodes forages amongst moss, leaf-litter and decaying wood, probing and flaking off pieces of moss and earth in search of invertebrate prey (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). Other small animals, such as frogs, may also occasionally be taken, and seeds are also sometimes eaten (2). Relatively little is known about the breeding behaviour of this species, but the breeding season is thought to begin around November or December, with young birds having been seen in January and March (2) (3) (4) (7). As in other Cinclodes species, the nest is likely to be built at the end of a tunnel dug into a bank or cliff face (3) (4) (5).
The royal cinclodes is under severe threat from the loss and degradation of Polylepis woodland, which is now scarce and fragmented, occupying only a fraction of its original cover. Heavy grazing and the uncontrolled use of fire have degraded understorey moss cover and prevented Polylepis regeneration, whilst cutting of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal production have further reduced available habitat (2) (3) (4) (6) (7) (9). As a result of this widespread habitat loss, the royal cinclodes has been reduced to tiny subpopulations, and may number fewer than 250 birds in total (2) (4) (7).
The royal cinclodes occurs in a number of protected areas, including Madidi and Cotapata National Parks in Brazil (2) (4) and the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru, a World Heritage Site (10). A number of conservation programmes are also underway or have been proposed for the species, including projects working with local communities to conserve Polylepis woodland; further research into the species’ status, ecology and distribution; environmental education and awareness campaigns; and efforts to improve land-use management (3) (4) (7). A project run by the American Bird Conservancy and the Asociación de Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) is also aiming to restore Polylepis woodland and establish community protected areas covering this vulnerable habitat, whilst also undertaking sustainable development projects that will benefit local people (9) (11). Despite its perilous situation, these conservation efforts may go some way towards providing a brighter future for the royal cinclodes, and recent records of this rare bird several hundred kilometres outside of its known range have given new hope that it may be more widespread than previously believed (4) (7) (8).
To find out more about the conservation of the royal cinclodes and its habitat see:
American Bird Conservancy (ABC):
Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN):
For more information on efforts to save some of the world’s most endangered bird species see:
BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme:
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- Conspecific: belonging to the same species.
- Invertebrate: animal with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2003) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 8: Broadbills to Tapaculos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
BirdLife International (March, 2010)
BirdLife International (1992) Royal cinclodes Cinclodes aricomae. In: BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
- Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (2009) Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: The Passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
- Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994) The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines. Volume II. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
- Hirschfeld, E. (2008) BirdLife International: Rare Birds Yearbook. MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury.
- Witt, C.C. and Lane, D.F. (2009) Range extensions for two rare high-Andean birds in central Peru. Cotinga, 31: 90-94.
American Bird Conservancy (March, 2010)
UNEP-WCMC: Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, Peru (March, 2010)
Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) (March, 2010)