Great Antpitta Grallaria excelsa


Justification of Red List Category
There are very few recent records of this species, indicating that the range and population are conceivably small, and that it may have undergone a rapid decline. It consequently qualifies as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
This species's population is suspected to be declining rapidly, in line with rates of habitat loss within its range.

Distribution and population

Grallaria excelsa occurs in the mountains of north Venezuela: in the Andes of Sierra de Perijá (north-west Zulia and possibly adjacent Colombia) and the Cordillera de Mérida (from east Táchira, through Mérida, to south-east Trujillo and south-east Lara), as well as the Cordillera de la Costa (Aragua) (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978, Ridgely and Tudor 1994). Though until recently virtually unknown in life (with some older records referring to misidentified Undulated Antpitta G. squamigera and Plain-backed Antpitta G. haplonota [C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997, Sharpe and Ascanio 2008]), it is now recorded with some regularity in at least one site in Yacambú National Park. However, there are very few records away from this one locality, and it 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 1,700-2,300 m, but particularly above 2,000 m (Ridgely and Tudor 1994, C. J. Sharpe, J. P. Rodríguez and F. Rojas-Suárez in litt. 1999, Sharpe and Ascanio 2008). Nesting takes place in May-June, and 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). 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 2008). The Sierra de Perijá has been extensively deforested for 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
Its range falls within Sierra de Perijá, Sierra Nevada and Yacambú National Parks and Pico Codazzi Nature Monument. Sierra de Perijá National Park formally protects one subpopulation, but there is no active management (Rodríguez and Rojas-Suárez 1995, A. Viloria per J. Fjeldså in litt. 1998, Sharpe and Ascanio 2008, 2015). It is considered nationally Vulnerable in Venezuela (Sharpe 2008, Sharpe and Ascanio 2015).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Using tape-playback, survey to assess its current distribution and ecological requirements, and identify appropriate conservation measures (Sharpe and Ascanio 2008). Determine whether this taxon is a valid species. Survey the upper elevations of the Coastal Cordillera for G. e. phelpsi, which has gone unrecorded for decades (P. Boesman in litt. 2012). Employ nets in the lower elevations of Guaramacal NP where the voice of G. undulata / excelsa can often be heard, to establish which of the two species is present (P. Boesman in litt. 2012). Initiate active management of Sierra de Perijá National Park. Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status. Evaluate the taxonomic status of phelpsi (Sharpe and Ascanio 2008, 2015).


Interesting also would be to establish whether there are objective criteria to distinguish voice of G. exelsa from G. undulata, which would facilitate greatly survey fieldwork


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
Capper, D., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A., Williams, R.

Boesman, P., Fjeldså, J., Sharpe, C J, Rojas-Suárez, F., Viloria, A., Rodríguez, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Grallaria excelsa. Downloaded from on 06/04/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 06/04/2020.