- 3 species in northern South America
- DR personal total: 2 species (67%), no
|Trumpeters are secretive, gregarious,
ground-dwelling birds of humid lowland forests in northern South
America. For most visitors they are elusive ghosts that melt into the
jungle, so a well-lit photo like this (left) — Gray-winged
Trumpeter in Venezuela — is a real coup (© David
Fisher). So far my own experiences have been but brief glimpses of
odd-looking birds running away across the forest floor.
Trumpeters are about the size of a domestic chicken but
are unrelated to the gallinaceous families. They are in the Gruiformes,
and possibly most closely related to such relict groups as the
seriemas, Kagu, and Limpkin (Sherman 1996). Both the molecular and
paleontological evidence (Cracraft 1982, Sibley & Ahlquist 199)
suggests that they arose 60-70 million years ago, and some of their
close relatives (e.g., family Phororhacidae) have since become extinct.
Today there is just a single genus of Trumpeters in northern South
America (Psophia) with three extant species: Gray-winged,
Pale-winged P. leucoptera, and Dark-winged P. viridis.
These are distinguished primarily by the color of the upper wing
coverts; the three species exist in differing parts of the Amazon and
|David Fisher described his recent observation
this way: "We also had a fabulous encounter with a group of a dozen or
so Gray-winged Trumpeters. Most of the group are shown in the
digiscoped image (reproduced above). Trumpeters are large, shy
rainforest species that quickly get hunted out of areas inhabited by
man. Thus, although there are three species in South America, none of
them is easy to see. We see them near Junglaven Jungle Camp which is
located in a remote part of the Amazon a long way from any people. A
couple of groups live in the lodge's patch of forest. Even here they
are still fairly shy, but on this occasion they came out onto the track
a hundred or so metres from us and clucked and chuckled for a while at
our intrusion into their rainforest home. Brilliant birds!"
Trumpeters are resident species that live year-round in
small parties of 3-13 individuals. The few studies to date suggest that
the typical group is 7 birds, which usually includes three unrelated
adult males, two unrelated adult females, and their immature offspring.
The groups are cohesive and social but have complex within-sex
hierarchies (Sherman 1996). All are primarily frugivorous, foraging on
the forest floor for fallen fruit or taking them off understory bushes,
but they will also eat small vertebrates and some invertebrates (10% of
their diet in some studies).
Although Trumpeters are named for their voice — and they
can be quite vocal — the call is not very trumpet-like. Sherman (1996)
describes it as a loud "quick descending series of 3-5 staccato notes
followed by a long, low-pitched, descending and resonant vibrato Oh-oh-oh-oh-ooooooooooh."
None of the three species is currently considered
endangered, but all species are declining, imperiled by hunter and
deforestation. My own personal hope is that my next encounter will be
much more prolonged, and that I might have David Fisher's luck with
Photos: David Fisher photographed the
party of Gray-winged Trumpeter Psophia
crepitans at Junglaven, Venezuela, in March 2007. Photo © 2007 David Fisher, used with permission;
all rights reserved.
Bibliographic note: There is no "family book"
per se, but a fine introduction to this family, with some fine photos,
is in Sherman (1996).
Cracraft, J. 1982. Phylogenetic relationships and
transantarctic biogeography of some gruiform birds. Geobios 6: 393–402.
Sherman, P.T. 1996. Family Psophiidae (Trumpeters),
pp. 96–107 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo,
J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal, eds). Vol. 3. Lynx Edicions,
Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and
Classification of Birds: a Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ.
Press, New Haven, CT.