Family Woodhoopoes (Phoeniculidae)

Least Concern

Black Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus aterrimus)


French: Irrisor noir German: Mohrensichelhopf Spanish: Abubilla arbórea negra
Other common names: Black Woodhoopoe

Promerops aterrimus


, 1826,



Taxonomy rather complicated, and much debated. In the past, commonly placed in monospecific Scoptelus on basis of rather straight bill; later, under arrangement whereby family divided into two genera, it was often placed in Phoeniculus, but DNA studies in particular indicate closer affinities with Rhinopomastus. Closely related to R. cyanomelas; the two sometimes considered conspecific, intergrading in S Angola and SE DRCongo, with hybridization also documented, but elsewhere (e.g. W Zambia) they appear ecologically separated; further, differences in morphology and vocalizations suggest that they are probably better treated as separate species, though some authorities suggest that they are vocally identical#R. Race anchietae may be better placed with R. cyanomelas#R. Birds from Angola and W Zambia, described as race anomalus, now considered inseparable from anchietae; those from Sudan described as cavei apparently inseparable from emini. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • R. a. aterrimus (Stephens, 1826) – S Mauritania and Senegambia E to W Sudan, S to N DRCongo.
  • R. a. emini (Neumann, 1905) – C Sudan to NE DRCongo and Uganda.
  • R. a. notatus (Salvin, 1892) – E Sudan, W Eritrea and Ethiopia (except far SE); recorded also in NW Somalia.
  • R. a. anchietae (Bocage, 1892) – S Gabon, SC Congo, S DRCongo and Angola to W Zambia (though occurrence in last-named is disputed)#R.
  • Descriptive notes

    23 cm; 18–23 g (two birds). Nominate race mainly dark and iridescent; crown and face deep blue; nape, mantle, scapulars, rump and uppertail-coverts violet; broad white... read more


    Song is a series of plaintive notes, either fairly loud or more subdued, “kwheep-kwheep-... read more


    Wooded savanna and dry bush country to limit of trees; avoids forest. From sea-level to over 2000 m. read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly insects, including ants and their larvae, adult beetles, mantids, caterpillars, pupae; also spiders, small berries. Forages in... read more


    Recorded in Apr, Jun–Jul and Sept–Jan across N portion of range; in Gambia, nest with young in mid-Oct, fledged young in late... read more


    In Nigeria, withdraws S into guinea savanna in dry season; population fluctuations suggest similar... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. No population estimates available; species is very widespread and in some areas locally common; frequent to very locally common in S half of W Gambia... read more

    Recommended citation

    Ligon, D. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Black Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus aterrimus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 19 January 2019).