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Lipaugus vociferans (Wied, 1820)

Screaming piha (EN) | Schreeuwpiha (NL) | Busiskowtu (SR)
© Hector Bottai, cut-out of original CC BY-SA 4.0
Conservation status: Least Concern
Adult size: 25 cm, 75 - 87g
Diet: Omnivore
Activity: Diurnal
Lifestyle: Volant

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About

The screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans), a medium-sized passerine bird is renowned for its extraordinary vocal prowess. Despite its unassuming grey plumage, this elusive species captivates both scientists and nature enthusiasts with its deafening calls, reaching volumes second only to the white bellbird.
Kingdom:
Phylum:
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Genus:
Species:
Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Passeriformes
Cotingidae
Lipaugus
L. vociferans

Size and Appearance:

The screaming piha (Lipaugus vociferans) is a medium-sized passerine bird, measuring approximately 25 cm in length and weighing around 80g. It exhibits a plain grey plumage with a mottled effect on the throat and breast, and its wings and tail may have a brownish tinge. The species displays no sexual dimorphism, with both males and females sharing similar appearances.

Habitat and Distribution:

This bird species inhabits the humid forests of the Amazon and tropical regions of the Mata Atlântica in South America. Its range extends across several countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Within these regions, the screaming piha occupies the middle and lower levels of the canopy, typically below altitudes of 500 m, although in certain areas, such as Venezuela and the Andean foothills, it may be found at elevations up to 1400 m.
The screaming piha has one of the most distinctive calls in the forest.

Diet:

Screaming pihis primarily feed on fruits, forming the main component of their diet. However, they also consume insects, occasionally catching them in mid-air with a trogon-like hover. While foraging, they remain inconspicuous, blending into tree branches and exhibiting solitary behavior.

Reproduction and Reproductive Behavior:

During the breeding season, male screaming pihas engage in lekking behavior to attract females. Leks are dispersed, with males maintaining territories roughly 40-60m apart. The males emit loud calls characterized by growling whistles followed by explosive, ringing cries. They remain relatively stationary on calling perches, occasionally jerking their heads backward during each song. Nests are constructed as loose twig structures on small branches of trees, typically 5-10 meters above ground.

Ecosystem role:

As a frugivorous bird, the screaming piha contributes to seed dispersal by consuming fruits and later excreting seeds in different locations, thereby aiding in the regeneration and diversity of plant species within the forest. This process is crucial for maintaining the health and resilience of forest ecosystems.

Cultural Significance:

The screaming piha holds significance as one of the iconic sounds of the Amazon rainforest. Its distinctive call is often used in movies and documentaries to evoke the ambiance of the tropical jungle.

The Screaming Piha, also known as the "capitão-do-mato," holds particular significance among indigenous communities due to its constant vocalizations in dense forest areas within Indigenous territories. The nickname "capitão-do-mato," which translates to bush captain, stems from oral traditions linking the bird's calls to the tracking of runaway slaves. According to these traditions, the pihas' singing would alert captors to the presence of fleeing individuals, contributing to their location within the forest.

With its robust song and elusive nature, it is referred to by the Arara indigenous people as the "feiticeiro" or sorcerer. Perched atop chestnut trees, its presence is rarely observed, leading to speculation that it may no longer inhabit this world.

Threats and conservation

While the screaming piha is considered common and widespread, it faces threats primarily from habitat loss due to deforestation. It is estimated that the species may lose around 15.2-16.4% of its suitable habitat within three generations due to Amazonian deforestation. However, despite this decline in habitat, its population trend is not believed to be rapidly decreasing. As a result, the screaming piha is currently evaluated as Least Concern by conservation organizations such as BirdLife International.

Recent studies:

Using an array of automated acoustic recorders, Chacón (2018) was able to determine that the screaming piha favors mature primary forest with large trees that show minimal forest gaps. Podos & Cohn-Haft (2019) quantified the calls of screaming pihas and white bellbirds at extremely high vocal amplitude levels of up to 116.1 dB and 125.4 dB respectively. Curiously, bellbirds produce their loudest calls when females are in very close proximity (4m observed) as opposed to long-distance communication.

References

- Chacón, J. U. (2018). Assessment of animal acoustic diversity in neotropical forest (Doctoral dissertation, Université Paris Saclay (COmUE)).
- Podos, J., & Cohn-Haft, M. (2019). Extremely loud mating songs at close range in white bellbirds. Current Biology, 29(20), R1068-R1069.

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