The Black-tailed Tityra, Tityra cayana, is a medium-sized passerine bird of tropical South America. The tityras have been placed in the cotinga or the tyrant flycatcher families (Cotingidae and Tyrannidae) by various authors. But the weight of evidence strongly suggest they and their closest relatives are better separated as Tityridae; the AOU for example advocates this separation.
This is a short-tailed robust bird with a long hook-tipped bill; like other tityras it has a peculiar vestigial ninth primary feather. The adult Black-tailed Tityra is about 8-9 in (c.20-22 cm) long and weighs about 2-2.5 oz (c.60-70 g). The male is dull white above and white below. The rectrices, the primary and secondary remiges and a cap extending to below the eyes are black; the tertiary remiges are silvery grey. Females have dark brown rather than black on wings and tail and some brown pattern on head, back and underside. In both sexes there is a patch of rosy-red bare skin around the eye, extending to the bill which is red-based with a black tip. The iris and feet are dark. As of 2004[update], the juvenile plumage was unknown.
This species has a buzzing short call rendered as ed, rek, urd or wenk. A double beeza-buzza and triple weenk, weenk, weenk are also given. It more frequently calls in flight than when perched.
Two subspecies are recognized; they are sometimes treated as distinct species but widely intergrade where their ranges meet:
- Black-tailed Tityra proper, Tityra cayana cayana (Linnaeus, 1766) "? Northern South America east of the Andes, from Trinidad across the Amazonas basin to Piauí and Mato Grosso (Brazil) and adjacent Bolivia.
Red bill base wide. Male greyish on back. Female with distinct brown cap and little streaking on breast and back; throat white.
- Brazilian Tityra, Tityra cayana braziliensis (Swainson, 1837) "? Piauí, Mato Grosso and adjacent Bolivia southeastwards to Misiones and possibly Corrientes Province (Argentina).
Red bill base narrow. Male white on back. Female lacks distinct cap, streaked strongly on entire head, neck, back and underside.
This bird is found as a year-round resident in forest edges, second growth and plantation shade trees in the pantanal and cerrado as well as in terra firme and várzea forest, usually below 1,600 ft (500 m) but occasionally as far up as 3,600 ft (1100 m) ASL. Black-tailed Tityras are most commonly seen in pairs, or, less frequently, single or in small groups; they are intolerant of other birds and will try to chase them away. They are often seen perched conspicuosly as they feed on medium-sized fruits. Food is gleaned from vegetation or picked off in mid-hover. While some large insects are caught, these are mainly fed to young birds; adults are predominantly frugivores and locally important dispersers of such species as the Meliaceae Cabralea canjerana. This species rarely attends mixed-species feeding flocks even when provisioning young, preferring to forage for insects on its own high up in the trees.
Its main breeding season appears to be from November to March across its range, but occasional nesting birds can be encountered almost year-round at least in some regions. For example, in the lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador, breeding activity has been reported in June and July also, suggesting either lack of a distinct breeding season and/or that two broods may be raised per year. The nest is several meters above ground in a tree hole, such as an old woodpecker nest or the crown of a dead palm tree. The brown-marked buff eggs are laid in a bed of dry leaves and some small twigs. Three eggs are considered likely, but exact clutch size is uncertain. Only the female incubates for almost three weeks until the young hatch, but both parents feed the chicks. Fledging is believed to take at least 3 weeks, perhaps as much as one month.
This species is one of the many hosts of the brood parasitic Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis). It is not uncommon across its large range and occurs in many national parks and other protected areas. Therefore it is considered a Species of Least Concern by the IUCN