Rufous-tailed plantcutter (Phytotoma rara)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCotingidae
GenusPhytotoma (1)
SizeLength: 18 - 20 cm (2)
Weight38 - 44 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Although bulky for its size (3), the rufous-tailed plantcutter is actually one of the world’s smallest herbivorous bird species (4) (5) (6). Attractively patterned in various shades of grey, black and rufous (7), its upperparts are broadly streaked blackish-brown with a band of white on the wings, while the throat, breast, belly and outer tail feathers are orange-rufous. The crown is chestnut, the sides of the head are black, and the eye is bright red (2). The short, rounded bill has a finely serrated cutting edge that enables it to pluck leaves, hence the common name plantcutter (3). The female is paler than the male and has buffy underparts streaked with black, while juveniles are generally uniformly grey-brown (2).

With a distribution that comprises central and southern Chile, and south-western Argentina (2), the rufous-tailed plantcutter is the southernmost of the three Phytotoma species (4) (5) (6).

Found from sea-level to 2,700 metres, in open forests and thorny scrub, as well as farmland, orchards and gardens (2) (4) (5).

Although the rufous-tailed plantcutter has a clear preference for vegetative matter, such as leaves, shoots and buds, it will occasionally take fruits and insects, while nestlings are fed almost exclusively with insects (2) (4). During the breeding season, this species forages in pairs, but at other time it aggregates in small groups of six to twelve birds (2).

The rufous tailed plantcutter has two distinct breeding seasons, from October to November, and December to January (2). The loosely built nest is made from dry twigs, padded with root fibres, and usually placed between one to three metres above the ground in thick thorny scrub (2) (3). Each breeding pair is known to incubate two to four eggs for around two weeks, but the length of the nestling period is yet to be documented. Although most populations are sedentary, those in the extreme south tend to move northwards during the winter, whilst those breeding at high altitudes tend to move to lower elevations (2).

In addition to having a large distribution, there are not known to be any major threats to the rufous-tailed plantcutter (8). Furthermore, given its occurrence in secondary forests, agricultural areas and even gardens, it appears to be relatively tolerant of disturbance. Owing to its habit of eating the young leaves of cereal crops and causing damage to orchards, it is considered an agricultural pest in parts of its range (2).

There are no known conservation measures in place for the rufous-tailed plantcutter, but it is present in numerous protected areas including La Campana-Peñuelas Biosphere Reserve and Puyehue National Park in Chile, and Nahuel Huapi National Park and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina (2).

For information on the conservation of birds across the Americas, see:

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

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: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. Lopez-Calleja, M.V. and Bozinovic, F. (1999) Feeding behavior and assimilation efficiency of the rufous-tailed plantcutter: A small avian herbivore. Condor, 101: 705 - 710.
  5. Meynard, C., Lopez-Calleja, M.V., Bozinovic, F. and Sabat, P. (1999) Digestive enzymes of a small avian herbivore, the rufous-tailed plantcutter. Condor, 101: 904 - 907.
  6. Rezende, E.L., Lopez-Calleja, M.V. and Bozinovic, F. (2001) Standard and Comparative Energetics of a Small Avian Herbivore (Phytotoma rara). The Auk, 118(3): 781 - 785.
  7. Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994) The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines. Volume II. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  8. BirdLife International (May, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=4476&m=0