Species Profile: Austral Negrito

coleg2This little guy, just 12-13 cm in length, goes by many names: Austral Negrito, Patagonian Negrito, Colegial, or Lessonia rufa in scientific terms. They are widely distributed across many South American countries. If you are in Patagonia during the Austral summer, watch out for these guys—you may see them running about on the ground in short, restless bursts, usually pursuing insect prey with brief flutters into the air.

Once you spot them, try to figure out if you are watching a male, female or juvenile. Here are some physical differences that will help you. The male is mostly black with the exception of a highly distinctive patch of rufous-chestnut on its back, while the female has a brownish-grey head and neck, dull rufous-brown back, mostly black wings, and dull ashy grey underparts; in flight a white contour in the tail can be seen. Juveniles are very similar to the female, but have more rufous on the back. During the austral summer, this is one of the most abundant species of bird that you can see at the Future Patagonia National Park.

Within the “avian world,” Austral Negritos belong to the Passeriformes order (Tyrannidae family). A common feature in the species of this order is the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back), which facilitates perching. Breeding occurs from September to January, and male displays by fluttering upwards 10 to 15 meters into the air. If mating is successful, female lays between two to four eggs in a small open nest made of twigs, small branches and roots, and usually positioned below overhanging vegetation on the ground or on a cliff ledge.  Chicks  are altricial i.e. blind, featherless, and helpless when hatched from their eggs. Hence, the chicks require extensive parental care. Once the young have fledged they migrate north with females, whom take care of the chicks (males migrate north earlier). Northern migration takes them as far as Bolivia and southern Brazil. We are always pleased to see them make the long trip to Patagonia each year!

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