Family Gnatcatchers (Polioptilidae)

Least Concern

Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus)


French: Microbate à long bec German: Schwarzschwanz-Degenschnäbler Spanish: Soterillo picudo

Ramphocænus melanurus


, 1819,

vicinity of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Races form at least three groups, all perhaps meriting species rank, but while vocal differences between the first two groups are relatively minor, those distinguishing the third may be greater (but recorded material sparse); further research, including molecular work, required. Races rufiventris and griseodorsalis were, until 1931, considered to represent a separate species and may warrant restoration as such, along with ardeleo and panamanensis; they seldom sing at constant pitch (usually initially rising or falling), while other taxa usually sing at constant pitch, but there is much overlap#R. Races obscurus and sticturus share distinctive morphology (white spots on outer rectrices) and seemingly also voice (but see above), and appear to occur in sympatry or near-sympatry (but are not syntopic) with amazonum and badius#R. Distributional limits of N races and of albiventris uncertain; details listed below are tentative. Fifteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • R. m. rufiventris (Bonaparte, 1838) – Long-billed Gnatwren – lowlands of S Mexico (SC Veracruz, N Oaxaca, N & S Chiapas), N & S Guatemala, Belize, N Honduras and El Salvador S to C Panama, and intermittently to SW Ecuador.
  • R. m. ardeleo Van Tyne & Trautman, 1941 – SE Mexico (Yucatán Peninsula S to SW Campeche and Quintana Roo).
  • R. m. panamensis A. R. Phillips, 1991 – C & E Panama (including Azuero Peninsula); possibly extending N to Costa Rica.
  • R. m. griseodorsalis Chapman, 1912 – W Colombia (W Caldas S to SC Valle del Cauca).
  • R. m. sanctaemarthae P. L. Sclater, 1862 – Caribbean coast of N Colombia and NW Venezuela.
  • R. m. pallidus Todd, 1913 – N Colombia (Zulia Valley) and N Venezuela (Falcón E to Miranda).
  • R. m. trinitatis Lesson, 1839 – W & NE Venezuela (W Apure E to Sucre), E Colombia (W Meta, W Putumayo) and NW Brazil (R Amajaú); Trinidad.
  • R. m. albiventris P. L. Sclater, 1883 – E Venezuela (E Bolívar) E to Suriname and French Guiana, S to NC Brazil (C Pará).
  • R. m. duidae J. T. Zimmer, 1937 – S Venezuela, E Colombia and E Ecuador.
  • R. m. badius J. T. Zimmer, 1937 – SE Ecuador and E Peru (C Amazonas).
  • R. m. amazonum Hellmayr, 1907 – E Peru (E bank of upper R Ucayali) to NC Brazil (W Pará).
  • R. m. austerus J. T. Zimmer, 1937 – N coastal Brazil (E Pará, N Maranhão).
  • R. m. melanurus Vieillot, 1819 – Trilling Gnatwren – coastal E Brazil from Paraíba S to Santa Catarina.
  • R. m. obscurus J. T. Zimmer, 1931 – E Peru from W bank of upper R Ucayali (Santa Rosa) S to E Junín.
  • R. m. sticturus Hellmayr, 1902 – Chattering Gnatwren – WC Brazil (NW Mato Grosso).
  • Descriptive notes

    12–13 cm; 8–11 g. Slender bill disproportionately long (21–25 mm), and tail usually held cocked or swinging about as if on loose hinge. Nominate race has... read more


    Loudsong a long (c. 2 seconds) musical trill, mainly on one pitch, but also rising, or falling, or... read more


    Dense undergrowth of terra firme forest, close to forest openings, brush, viny tangles,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds on small arthropods, including moths (Lepidoptera), other insects and minute spiders (Araneae). Very active forager, moving quickly... read more


    Nests recorded in Apr in Costa Rica, May in Honduras, Jul in Panama, Jun in Venezuela, Apr and Jun in Trinidad (breeding earlier in high... read more



    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to fairly common in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador; common in Caribbean lowlands of Guatemala but uncommon on Pacific slope; uncommon in... read more

    Recommended citation

    Atwood, J. & Lerman, S. (2019). Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus). 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 16 February 2019).