1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tapaculo

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TAPACULO, the name[1] given in Chile to a bird of singular appearance—the Pteroptochus albicollis of ornithology, and applied in an extended sense to its allied forms, which constitute a small family, Pteroptochidae, belonging to the Clamatores division of Passeres, peculiar to South America. About 20 species, disposed by P. L. Sclater (Ibis, 1874, pp. 189–206) in 8 genera, are believed to belong to this group.


The species of the Family first made known is Scytalopus magellanicus, originally described in 1783 by J. Latham (Synopsis, iv. p. 464) as a Warbler. Even in 1836 J. Gould not unnaturally took it for a Wren, when establish in the genus to which it is now referred; but some ten years after Johannes Müller found that Scytalopus, together with the true Tapaculo, which was first described by Kittlitz in 1830, possessed anatomical characters that removed them far from any position previously assigned to them, and determined their true place as above given. In the meanwhile a kindred form, Hylactes, also first described in 1830, had been shown by T. C. Eyton to have some very exceptional osteological features, and these were found to be also common to Pteroptochus and Scytalopus. In 1860 J. Cabanis recognized the Pteroptochidae as a distinct Family, but made it also include Menura (see Lyre-bird), and in 1874 P. L. Sclater (ut supra) thought that Atrichia (see Scrub-bird) might belong here. It was A. Garrod in 1876 and 1877 who finally divested the Family of these aliens, but until examples of some of the other genera have been anatomically examined it may not be safe to say that they all belong to the Pteroptochidae.

The true Tapaculo (P. albicollis) has a general resemblance in plumage to the females of some of the smaller Shrikes (Lanius), and to a cursory observer its skin might pass for that of one; but its shortened wings and powerful feet would on closer inspection at once reveal the difference. In life, however, its appearance must be wholly unlike, for it rarely flies, hops actively on the ground or among bushes, with its tail erect or turned towards its head, and continually utters various and strange notes,—some, says Darwin, are “like the cooing of doves, others like the bubbling of water, and many defy all similes.” The “Turco,” Hylactes megapodius, is larger, with greatly developed feet and claws, but is very similar in colour and habits. Two more species of Hylactes are known, and one other of Pteroptochus, all of which are peculiar to Chile or Patagonia. The species of Scytalopus are as small as Wrens, mostly of a dark colour, and inhabit parts of Brazil and Colombia, one of them occurring so far northward as Bogota.  (A. N.) 

  1. Of Spanish origin, it is intended as a reproof to the bird for the shameless way in which, by erecting its tail, it exposes its hinder parts. It has been sometimes misspelt “Tapacolo,” as by C. Darwin, who gave (Journal of Researches, chap. xii.) a brief but entertaining account of the habits of this bird and its relative, Hylactes megapodius, called by the Chilenos “El Turco.”