Great Antpitta Grallaria excelsa


Justification of Red List category
There are very few recent records of this species from only a limited number of sites, indicating that the population may be small and disjunct. It is feared that habitat loss is driving a slow population decline, and the species consequently qualifies as Near Threatened.

Population justification
The population size has not been quantified. Tentatively assuming that the species occurs at the same density as a congener (G. varia: 3 mature individuals/km2; Santini et al. 2018) and further assuming that only 10% of the range is occupied to account for its apparent rarity, the population may number 1,800 mature individuals. To account for uncertainty, it is here placed in the band 1,000-2,499 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be declining as a consequence of the loss of its habitat through deforestation (Greeney 2020). Within the range, tree cover loss is however low, amounting to <2% over three generations (15.8 years; Global Forest Watch 2022, using Hansen et al. [2013] data and methods disclosed therein). The species is restricted to humid forest, though may potentially tolerate some habitat degradation (Greeney 2020); therefore, declines are unlikely to exceed 10% over three generations.

Distribution and population

Grallaria excelsa occurs in the mountains of north Venezuela, where it is known from the Cordillera de Mérida from east Táchira, through Mérida, to south-east Trujillo and south-east Lara (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978, Ridgely and Tudor 1994). It may also occur in the Cordillera de la Costa (Aragua) and the Sierra de Perijá (north-west Zulia and possibly adjacent Colombia), though there are no records (Hilty 2003, Greeney 2020). Though until recently virtually unknown in life, it is now recorded with some regularity in Yacambú, Guaramacal and Gral Juan Pablo Penaloza national parks (eBird 2022). However, there are very few records away from these localities, and the species is likely to be rare and localised throughout its range. The distinctive Coastal Cordillera subspecies phelpsi is unknown in life, having not been recorded for 80 years (Sharpe and Ascanio 2015).


It inhabits humid montane forest with a dense understorey at 1,460-2,570 m, but particularly above 2,000 m (del Hoyo et al. 2003, Huang et al. 2021). Nesting takes place during the rainy season in May-June, when one or two eggs are laid (Kofoed and Auer 2004). Nests are built 3.8 - 12 m above the ground in trees where dense clusters of aroid plants, epiphytes, and lianas secure them to either a vertical fork or against the trunk itself (Kofoed and Auer 2004). They are large, bulky, open-cups made from mosses, rootlets, wet leaves, small stems, detritus, and fern fronds, and lined with a thick mesh of black rootlets and rhizomorphs (Kofoed and Auer 2004).


Some large tracts of forest remain in the Cordillera de Mérida and Cordillera de la Costa, but deforestation has been locally severe (Huber and Alarcón 1988, C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997, 2022). Agricultural colonisation represents a significant threat in the Sierra de Perijá, Cordillera de Mérida and Cordillera de la Costa, and many areas have already been cleared for cultivation, both commercial and subsistence (Stattersfield et al. 1998, Sharpe and Ascanio 2015). Deforestation in the Sierra de Perijá is caused by narcotics cultivation, uncontrolled colonisation, cattle-ranching and mineral exploitation (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997, A. Viloria per J. Fjeldså in litt. 1998).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs within several national parks throughout its range, including Yacambú and Guaramacal national parks, and potentially Sierra de Perijá and Sierra Nevada national parks.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Using tape-recordings, survey to assess its current distribution and quantify the population size. Investigate ecological requirements. Monitor rates of habitat loss. Identify appropriate conservation measures. Evaluate the taxonomic status of subspecies phelpsi (Sharpe and Ascanio 2015). Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.


24 cm. Large antpitta with barred underparts. Olive-brown above, with contrasting grey crown and nape. Tawny sides of head, neck and underparts, heavily barred black. White throat. Similar spp. Undulated Antpitta G. squamigera is smaller with less contrasting crown and no malar stripe. Voice A long, deep but rising trill - br'r'r'r'r'r'r'r'r'orp approx. 4 - 6 seconds long


Text account compilers
Hermes, C.

Boesman, P., Capper, D., Fjeldså, J., Gallardo, A., García Rawlins, A., Pople, R., Rodríguez, J.-P., Rojas-Suárez, F., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Viloria, A. & Williams, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Grallaria excelsa. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/great-antpitta-grallaria-excelsa on 01/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 01/12/2023.