Rufous-capped Brush Finch, Atlapetes pileatus

Original descriptionAtlapetes pileatus Wagler 1831

eBird range map

Taxonomic history at Avibase

Taxonomic history in AOU/AOS Check-list 

AOU 6 (1983): Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, Atlapetes pileatus

AOU 7 (1998): Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, Atlapetes pileatus

IUCN Conservation StatusOf least concern

The high elevations occupied by this species are generally safe from human activity; though logging is increasing in parts of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in the long term, that practice probably only encourages the brushy undergrowth this bird inhabits. 

Behavior: Aurally conspicuous, Rufous-capped Brush Finches are nevertheless shy, even secretive, and can be difficult to glimpse in the dense undergrowth they prefer. Pairs or small flocks—probably family groups—move quickly and nervously through the vegetation, pausing to feed in the outer branches of bushes and trees a few feet above the ground. They also hop through leaves, pine needles, and other ground litter in search of insects and seeds, and may attend swarms of army ants.

Voice: The common calls of this species include a long, thin tsee-up, with a leisurely attack and sustained, slightly ascending decay. Pairs and family groups give an incessant series of squeaky, chattering chips, the individual notes sometimes doubled and often with an odd “electronic” quality. There is also an apparent “reunion duet,” more clearly structured and more obviously descending than the usual chatter. 

The simple but variable song usually begins with one or two thin notes resembling the tsee-up call; that introduction is followed by four or five squeaky chips or, at times, a faster trill. In some birds, the entire song is composed of squeaky chips, while in others, the concluding notes are clear and ringing, somewhat like the introductory notes of a Louisiana Waterthrush.

Detailed description and measurements drawn from standard reference works

Adult Atlapetes pileatus pileatus: Tail feathers, upper tail coverts, and rump dull greenish. Back and scapulars slightly clearer greenish. Primaries, secondaries, and tertials dull greenish gray with faintly brighter greenish edges. Greater and median coverts dull greenish gray. Nape broadly gray on sides, divided by wide continuation of rusty crown.

Under tail coverts, vent, belly, and breast pale yellow with vaguely darker fine shaft streaks. Flanks and sides of lower breast variably tinged olive or brown. Throat bright yellow, clearly bordered by dark grayish or blackish jaw stripe. Crown deep chestnut, the color extending well down nape. Ear coverts and rear of broad supercilium gray, concolorous with sides of nape. Supercilium in front of eye, lore and upper portion of jaw stripe dull black, forming half mask that includes eye. 

Short tarsi and long toes light brown. Short bill blackish above, slightly paler below. 

Juvenile Atlapetes pileatus pileatus: Upperparts including crown and nape olive-brownish. Greater and median coverts with variable faint pinkish or brownish tips. Nape olive-brown. 

Underparts including throat dull pale buffy yellow. Breast with diffuse pale brownish mottling. Flanks and sides of breast olive brownish. Throat brighter yellow, clearly bordered by dark grayish jaw stripe. Crown olive-brownish. Ear coverts pale gray-brown. Rear of supercilium olive-brown. Supercilium in front of eye, lore, and upper portion of jaw stripe dull black, forming poorly defined half mask that includes eye. 

Short tarsi and long toes light brown. Short bill blackish above, slightly paler below. 

Length 127-152 mm (5.0-6.0 inches)

Wing chord 62-71 mm (2.4-2.8 inches)

Tail 62-73 mm (2.4-2.9 inches)

W:T 0.93

Mass 22-28 g