Urrao Antpitta

Information about the Bird Urrao Antpitta

The Urrao antpitta or Fenwick's antpitta (Grallaria urraoensis or fenwickorum) is a highly threatened species of bird found in the understory of cloud forest in the Andean highlands of Colombia. Its description has caused considerable controversy. The first published description used the scientific name Grallaria fenwickorum (and English name Fenwick's antpitta); shortly afterward, a second description using the name Grallaria urraoensis was published. The editors of the latter recognized that the name likely was a junior synonym, but others have questioned if the first description was valid, and various authorities, including the International Ornithological Congress (followed here for English-language names), have adopted G. urraoensis. Antioquia antpitta has been suggested as an English-language name compromise.

The new species was discovered during banding sessions in September 2007 and February and March 2008 when Diego Carantn, then working as a researcher for a Colombian NGO, Fundacin ProAves de Colombia, caught an unfamiliar Grallaria antpitta. It was also sound-recorded in late 2008. The population was thought to be a new species and was added to the Colombian checklist as "Grallaria sp." in 2009. Since 2008 many ornithologists and birders have seen, photographed, recorded and studied the new bird at the reserve, where a family party is seen daily at a feeding station alongside chestnut-naped antpittas. Luis Felipe Barrera and Avery Bartels, the authors of the description under the name Grallaria fenwickorum, based it on holotypic material from a living bird, but also included information based on two specimens that Carantn had collected earlier.
Their holotype comprises 14feathers, taken from the wing, tail and body of a living bird which was banded, photographed, sound-recorded and measured in the field before being released, on 11 January 2010. In the description it was stated that the holotype material had been deposited, as tissue collection No. 699, at the Jos Celestino Mutis Natural History Museum of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Pamplona. This was denied by people associated with the museum, which has neither a tissue collection nor anything deposited under No. 699. An associate of the museum did receive an envelope with the feathers, but he was not informed about its great significance and it was not moved to the collection until after the description of the new species. The museum does not have an ornithological curator or the means to preserve such an important sample. Consequently they have forwarded the material to the relevant authorities to allow them to take charge in its depositing and preservation.
Besides this holotype, two specimens were previously collected by Carantn. He has stated that the second was not deliberately collected, but died in the mist net where it was caught, which is not an exceptional occurrence. According to Fundacin ProAves these specimens were collected without their knowledge and without the necessary permit from the local government, and consequently neither was used as a holotype in their description, but one could possibly be designated as a neotype if the legal status was resolved. In 2011, the collector and ProAves (the collector was employed by them when the specimens were collected) were fined for breach of reporting requirements. ProAves maintain that the collection itself was irregular, but there was no such finding by the local government. One of the specimens was used as a holotype in the second description of the species, by Diego Carantn-Ayala and Katherine Certuche-Cubillos, where they coined the name Grallaria urraoensis.
Within its genus, the bird is a typical member of the plain-coloured group due to its relatively small wings, fairly uniform upperparts and underparts without strong markings, relatively high tail / wing ratio, a convolute inner edge of the tarsus, and 12rectrices. It is evidently most closely related to the brown-banded antpitta, G.milleri, because of similarities in voice and measurements and its generally plain plumage. Barrera and Bartels and other ornithologists have suggested that it is most closely related to the probably extinct subspecies G.m.gilesi, but Carantn and Certuche say that it may resemble G.m.milleri more closely than it does gilesi. They suggest that the present species, the brown-banded antpitta, and the Cundinamarca antpitta form a clade.
The genus name Grallaria is derived from the Latin word grallae, meaning "stilts", referring to the bird's relatively long legs. The specific name fenwickorum recognises George Fenwick, President of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and his family, who assisted Fundacin ProAves (ABC's partner organization in Colombia) in the purchase of land, now the Colibr del Sol Bird Reserve. Based on present knowledge, the antpitta is restricted to the reserve and its immediate surroundings. ProAves's suggested English name also honours Fenwick, while the Spanish common name Tororoi de Urrao is given after the municipality of Urrao, where the bird is found.Tororoi is a general Spanish name used for most antpitta species. The creation of a type specimen without killing an individual follows the policy of the ABC.
The bird most closely resembles the brown-banded antpitta, which is endemic to the Cordillera Central of Colombia, but it has a slate-grey breast and lacks the brown flanks and breast band of the other species. Measurements of the living bird from which Barrera and Bartels' holotype material was derived, as well as of the two collected specimens, show weights ranging from 53.5 to 57.4 grams (1.89 to 2.02oz), flat wing chords of 95-99 millimetres (3.7-3.9in), tail lengths of 57-63 millimetres (2.2-2.5in), and tarsus lengths of 44.5-49.9 millimetres (1.75-1.96in). The sexes are similar in appearance, as with most other antpittas.
A captured fledgling was covered with dark grey down with brown edges above and was buff below. Its feet were dark pink; its bill was black above and orange below, with conspicuous red-orange edges. A captured juvenile looked scaled, with patches of chestnut-edged black down intermixed with grey feathers on much of its body, and a buff belly. Its bill resembled that of the fledgling.
The song comprises three notes of increasing length and frequency. The birds sing more early in the year. The call is a single note, higher-pitched than the song, which rises, falls, and rises again. The birds often give it in response to loud noises and playbacks of its vocalisations. They call more later in the year. Both song and call resemble those of the brown-banded antpitta, but Fenwick's antpitta's notes are shorter and lower-pitched, and those of its song are separated by wider intervals.
The known distribution of the bird is limited to the Urrao municipality in and near the Colibr del Sol Bird Reserve, a 28.52 square kilometres (11.01sqmi) reserve on the south-eastern slope of the Pramo del Sol massif, at the northern end of the Cordillera Occidental of Colombia, and some 55 kilometres (34mi) west of Medelln, Colombia-s second largest city. The massif has over 27 square kilometres (10sqmi) of relatively intact pramo and Polylepis woodland, containing more such habitat than all the other pramos in the region combined. There the bird is restricted to upper montane cloud forest dominated by Colombian oak, at an altitude of 2,600 to 3,300 metres (8,500 to 10,800ft) above sea level, where most territories contain Chusquea bamboo thickets. It is suspected that its range may be larger than currently known, but so far surveys have failed to confirm this.
The species exhibits behaviour typical of other members of its genus; it is a shy, terrestrial forager for insects (especially beetles) in the leaf-litter within the forest understorey. It ascends to higher perches (up to 1.5m above the ground) to sing, and is most active and vocal in the hours following dawn and prior to dusk.
It usually occurs in pairs, less often singly, and one group of three has been observed.
The males captured in February and March had enlarged testes, typical of breeding birds. The fledgling and an adult with old brood patches were observed in June. These data and song activity from February to April (a dry season) suggest that the breeding season begins early in the year, possibly as early as January, and extends for several months.
As in other Grallaria species, the fledgling was less developed than those of most passerines, and both parents fed it earthworms.
The bird has a very restricted known range, limited to the Colibr del Sol reserve and its immediate vicinity, while previous surveys in similar habitat in the region have failed to record the species. Moreover, habitat used by the bird has been extensively cleared for pasture, and the area is rich in minerals. The known population of 24 territories has an estimated area of 5.8 square kilometres (2.2sqmi), giving a conservative global population estimate of 57-156 territories. Both articles on the new species propose that the IUCN classify Fenwick's antpitta as critically endangered, and this will be followed in the forthcoming 2011 edition of the BirdLife International list, which is the authority used for birds by the IUCN. Although it is protected in the Colibr del Sol reserve, it needs further protective measures. The single bird or pair that was known from outside the reserve has not been recorded since mid-2010 and appears to have disappeared.
The first description was published in Conservacin Colombiana, the journal of Fundacin ProAves. It was accompanied by an editorial giving the reasons that Diego Carantn, who discovered the bird, was not among the authors of the paper. The editorial accused Carantn of taking specimens illegally as well as violating his contract by omitting mention of his discovery from his monthly reports to Fundacin ProAves and by trying to deprive the foundation of its intellectual property in the discovery. Specifically, it said that the Fundacin had learned of the discovery through third parties in October 2008. Attempts to agree on a publication authored by Carantn and members of Fundacin ProAves failed, and then Carantn and others tried to publish a description of the species in the journal The Condor without notifying the Fundacin. The Condor rejected the manuscript pending resolution of the dispute. Staff members of Fundacin ProAves went to the Colibr del Sol reserve and in January 2010 caught a bird whose feathers they collected and used as the basis of their publication without Carantn (May 2010).
In June 2010 (though dated May 2010), a second description of the new species by Carantn and another biologist in Colombia, Katherine Certuche, appeared in Ornitologa Colombiana, the journal of the Asociacin Colombiana de la Ornitologa, edited by the ornithologists Carlos Daniel Cadena and F. Gary Stiles. It was accompanied by an editorial describing Stiles's and Cadena's involvement with Carantn and Certuche's paper starting shortly after Fundacin ProAves found out about the work. In this account, Cadena attempted to mediate but withdrew because of conflicts with Fundacin ProAves. The editorial adds a reason that Carantn's collection of specimens may have been lawful, and notes that in any case, none of the legal accusations against him had been decided by a court. Further, the attempt at joint publication by Carantn, Certuche, and Fundacin ProAves scientists failed because Fundacin ProAves insisted that Carantn could not be the corresponding author and that Fundacin ProAves had to have full control over the final text. After The Condor rejected Carantn and Certuche's manuscript, they submitted it to Ornitologa Colombiana, which decided to publish it despite the previous description of the species. Cadena and Stiles noted that ProAves had not given Carantn the possibility to answer their accusations before they were published and said the description by Barrera and Bartels could be a violation of Carantn's moral rights, which are protected under the Colombian law. They also stated that the description by Barrera and Bartels was in violation of the ICZN Code of Ethics, which Barrera and Bartels denied and in any case the Code of Ethics is part of a section that zoologists are urged to follow (unlike most other sections of the ICZN code, which zoologists have to follow).
Subsequently the editor-in-chief of The Condor voiced his strong discontent with the actions of ProAves, suggested the description by Barrera and Bartels conflicted with the very spirit of the ICZN Code, and stated that he felt ProAves had "maneuvered to trick the Condor out of considering your [Carantn's] manuscript so that ProAves could publish its own type description of the antpitta."
In 2011, the local government fined Carantn and ProAves (Carantn was employed by them when the specimens were collected) for breach of reporting requirements. ProAves maintain that the collection itself was irregular, but there was no such finding by the local government.
The fenwickorum description was published before the urraoensis description (18 May 2010 vs 24 June 2010). If the first description is valid, the scientific name fenwickorum takes priority, and Carantn and Certuche's proposed name (Grallaria urraoensis) will be considered a junior synonym. It has been suggested that the description by Barrera and Bartels failed to properly designate a type (and that they also failed to deposit their type material in a research collection, but this is not required under the ICZN Code). If that is the case, the name fenwickorum is not available (=invalid) and Grallaria urraoensis is the correct name. After seeing this argument, the American Ornithologists' Union's South American Checklist Committee has accepted the species as urraoensis. (Members include Cadena, who abstained from the vote on the name, and Stiles, who voted for urraoensis.)
Time will tell whether Fundacin ProAves' English name, Fenwick's antpitta, or Carantn and Certuche's English name, Urrao antpitta, will prove more popular, but the only completely uninvolved authority that has taken a stance on this matter has avoided taking sides by coining a new name, Antioquia antpitta. Its known range is entirely within the Antioquia Department. The two articles that described the species proposed the same Spanish name, tororoi de Urrao.

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