Screaming piha Lipaugus vociferans, copyright Hector Bottai.

Belongs within: Cotingidae.

The Cotinginae: Neotropical and fabulous!
Published 19 November 2007
Sure you said just fluffy, but did you ever imagine I could do this with your hair? Long-wattled umbrella-bird Cephalopterus penduliger, from BirdQuest.

When I used to look through one of the various bird family books I knew and loved as a young’un, the cotingas were somewhere I was bound to stop. Cotingas are a diverse family of largely frugivorous birds from Central and South America. Don Roberson refers to them as the “birds-of-paradise of the New World”, and while perhaps not quite so incredible as the original birds-of-paradise, cotingas are certainly up there (along with hummingbirds and pheasants) in terms of total drag-queen-esque gaudiness.

Preliminary phylogenetic analysis by Prum et al. (2000) divided the Cotingidae into four reasonably well-supported clades, though relationships within the clades were poorly supported. Prum et al. suggested that these clades be recognised as the subfamilies Tityrinae, Phytotominae, Rupicolinae and Cotinginae. A more recent analysis by Ohlson et al. (2007) effectively supported Phytotominae and Cotinginae, though the Rupicolinae of Prum et al. (2000) were polyphyletic. Authors differ on whether the Tityrinae should be included in the Cotingidae or not, and Ohlson et al. (2007) excluded them. It is with the Cotinginae (the “core cotingas” of Ohlson et al.) that I am concerned today.

Male three-wattled bellbird Procnias tricarunculata, from Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The name “cotinga” is actually a rather inappropriate one. It comes from a native Amazon name for one of the species meaning “washed white” (Austin, 1961). Despite this, only a few species of cotinga are significantly white, including the bellbirds of the genus Procnias. Bellbirds get their name from their bell-like call (a single “bock!” according to Don Roberson) which is reputedly one of the loudest sounds made by any bird. Ohlson et al. (2007) placed Procnias in a clade they referred to as the “canopy cotingas”, which also includes (among others) Gymnoderus foetidus (the bare-necked fruitcrow) and Carpodectes nitidus (the all-white snowy cotinga). The genus Cotinga has traditionally been regarded as closely related to these genera, but Ohlson et al. were unable to confirm such a relationship.

Pompadour cotinga Xipholena punicea, from the Field Museum.

Going by the results of Prum et al. (2000), the canopy cotingas probably also include Xipholena punicea, the pompadour cotinga. This species received its common name from Jeane-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, she of the gigantic and ridiculously ornate wigs. Among the exotic paraphernalia Madame de Pompadour incorporated into her stupendous wigs were whole birds, and the first described specimen of the red lavender-coloured pompadour cotinga was described from a shipment of bird skins captured by the British on its way to the Madame.

The two groups of pihas are quite dull-coloured birds, though the screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans) makes up in volume what it lacks in colour. All pihas were once included in a single genus Lipaugus, but Prum (2001) showed that the two species of Snowornis were not closely related to the other pihas.

Finally, the fruitcrows include the largest of the cotingas. Many of the fruitcrows and the Lipaugus pihas are lek breeders (the fruitcrow genus Querula are monogamous with nest helpers, while the breeding habits of Snowornis pihas are largely unknown but have not been observed to include lekking). The best-known of the fruitcrows are undoubtedly the spectacular umbrellabirds of the genus Cephalopterus with their bouffant hair-dos and long, hanging throat sacs. But just as notable is the calfbird (Perissocephalus tricolor), whose cow-like call is accompanied by a strange movement of stretching the neck, puffing the feathers around the head and tottering precariously on the legs. See for yourself!

Systematics of Cotinginae
|--Snowornis Prum 2001BKB15, P01
| |--*S. subalaris (Sclater 1861) [=Lipaugus subalaris, Lathria subalaris]P01
| `--S. cryptolophus [=Lathria cryptolophus, Lipaugus cryptolophus]P01
`--+--+--Haematoderus militarisBKB15
| `--+--Querula Vieillot 1816BKB15, B94 [Querulidae]
| | |--Q. cruentaSS66
| | `--Q. purpurataP01
| `--+--Pyroderus Gray 1840BKB15, B94 [incl. Coracina Temminck 1823 non Vieillot 1816B94; Coracinidae, Pyroderidae]
| | `--P. scutatus [=Coracina scutata]B94
| `--+--Perissocephalus tricolorP01
| `--Cephalopterus Geoffroy St.-Hilaire 1809P01, B94 [Cephalopteridae]
| |--C. glabricollisJT12
| |--C. ornatusP01
| `--C. penduligerJT12
`--+--Cotinga Brisson 1760BKB15, B94 [incl. Ampelis Linné 1766B94]
| |--C. amabilisA61
| |--‘Ampelis’ carolinensis [=Bombycivora carolinensis]J23
| |--C. cayanaP01
| |--‘Ampelis’ garrulus [incl. Bombycilla bohemica]F17
| |--C. maculataUSDI77
| |--C. maynanaJT12
| |--C. nattereriiJT12
| |--C. porphyrolaema Sclat. & Dev. 1852SS66
| `--C. ridgwayiJT12
`--+--+--Chirocylla uropygialisP01
| `--Lipaugus Boie 1828BKB15, P01 [incl. Lathria Swainson 1837P01, Turdampelis Lesson 1844P01; Lipaugidae]
| | i. s.: L. holerythrusS18
| | L. lanioides [=*Turdampelis lanioides]P01
| | L. simplexSS66
| | L. uropygialisJT12
| | L. weberiJT12
| |--L. unirufusJT12 [=Lathria unirufaS18]
| | |--L. u. unirufusS18
| | |--L. u. castaneotinctusE52
| | `--‘Lathria’ u. claraS18
| `--+--L. fuscocinereusJT12
| `--+--+--*L. vociferansP01, JT12 [=Muscicapa vociferansP01; incl. M. plumbeaP01, *Lathria plumbeaP01]
| | `--L. streptophorusJT12
| `--TijucaJT12
| |--T. atraJT12
| `--T. conditaJT12
`--+--Procnias Illiger 1811BKB15, B94
| |--P. albusJT12
| |--P. averanaJT12
| |--P. nudicollisPT03
| `--P. tricarunculatusJT12
`--+--*Porphyrolaema porphyrolaemaBKB15
`--+--+--Conioptilon mcilhennyiBKB15
| `--Gymnoderus Geoffroy St.-Hilaire 1809BKB15, B94 [Gymnoderidae]
| `--G. foetidusP01
| |--C. antoniaeJT12
| |--C. hopkeiP01
| `--C. nitidusJT12
|--X. atropurpureaJT12
|--X. lamellipennisJT12
`--X. puniceaP01

*Type species of generic name indicated


[A61] Austin, O. L., Jr. 1961. Birds of the World: A survey of the twenty-seven orders and one hundred and fifty-five families. Paul Hamlyn: London.

[B94] Bock, W. J. 1994. History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 222: 1–281.

[BKB15] Burleigh, J. G., R. T. Kimball & E. L. Braun. 2015. Building the avian tree of life using a large-scale, sparse supermatrix. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 53–63.

[E52] Eisenmann, E. 1952. Annotated list of birds of Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal Zone. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 117 (5): 1–62.

[F17] Forster, T. 1817. A synoptical catalogue of British birds; intended to identify the species mentioned by different names in several catalogues already extant. Forming a book of reference to observations on British ornithology. Nichols, Son, and Bentley: London.

[J23] James, E. 1823. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819 and ’20, by order of the Hon. J. C. Calhoun, sec’y of war: under the command of Major Stephen H. Long. From the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party vol. 1. H. C. Carey & I. Lea: Philadelphia.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444–448.

Ohlson, J. I., R. O. Prum & P. G. P. Ericson. 2007. A molecular phylogeny of the cotingas (Aves: Cotingidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 42 (1): 25–37.

[P01] Prum, R. O. 2001. A new genus for the Andean green pihas (Cotingidae). Ibis 143: 307–309.

Prum, R. O., N. H. Rice, J. A. Mobley & W. W. Dimmick. 2000. A preliminary phylogenetic hypothesis for the cotingas (Cotingidae) based on mitochondrial DNA. Auk 117 (1): 236–241.

[PT03] Prum, R. O., & R. Torres. 2003. Structural colouration of avian skin: convergent evolution of coherently scattering dermal collagen arrays. Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 2409–2429.

[SS66] Sclater, P. L., & O. Salvin. 1866. Catalogue of birds collected by Mr. E. Bartlett on the River Uyacali, Eastern Peru, with notes and descriptions of new species. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1866: 175–201.

[S18] Stone, W. 1918. Birds of the Panama Canal Zone, with special reference to a collection made by Mr. Lindsey L. Jewel. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 70: 239–280.

[USDI77] United States Department of the Interior. 1977. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants—republication of list of species. Federal Register 42: 36420–36431.

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