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The plushcap is one of the most distinctive of all Neotropical passerines in terms of both its appearance and behavior. The plushcap (Catamblyrhynchus diadema) was in its own family until recently when it was grouped with the tanagers. It is very distinct both physically and in terms of behavior. The bill is broad and black. The body is a chestnut color with a bright golden-yellow forecrown. The forecrown is made up of stiff feathers. It has been speculated that these short, dense feathers are less susceptible to feather wear and more resistant to moisture than typical feathers. This may be an adaptation for its specialized feeding mode, in which it probes into dense whorls of bamboo for its prey items (Hilty et al. 1979). Juveniles are just duller versions of their parents. They are found at high elevations from northern Venezuela south to Argentina, including the coastal mountains of Venezuela and the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and extreme northwestern Argentina. They live in montane forests and secondary forests near bamboo. They forage for insects inside the bamboo. They will eat small insects, berries, and small plant matter. The overall length averages 14 cm (5.5 in) and weigh averages 14.1 grams (0.5 oz).
The bird is very distinct and is not confused with many other birds. It stands out from the other tanagers, only possibly being confused with the golden-crowned tanager despite the golden-crowned tanager being blue. The species is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitat is humid montane forests and it is always found in close association with Chusquea bamboo. It is typically found at an elevation 1,800 to 3,500 m.
Tanagers are a very varied family in both looks and behaviors. They are small to medium-sized birds that tend to be very brightly colored but do not have to be. The bills vary with each species and can be anywhere from broad and short to curved and thin. The size of flock that a bird travels in varies depending on the species; some are solitary while others travel in large flocks. Most tanagers live in woodland and tropical forests. Tanagers usually eat both fruits and insects but some will eat nectar and honey as well. There are three subspecies: Catamblyrhynchus diadema citrinifrons, Catamblyrhynchus diadema diadema, and Catamblyrhynchus diadema federalis. The subspecies citrinifrons is found in Peru and has a paler cap while the federalis is in coastal Venezuela and is brighter than diadema.
The plushcap is about 14 cm long with a chestnut body and a golden-yellow forecrown (the plush part of the name). From the nape to the wings is black. The males and females look the same but the males are slightly larger than the females.
While the plushcap is usually quiet when it does vocalize it has a long series of chirps and twitters.
Plushcaps prefer to live in montane forest or secondary woodland by Chusquea bamboo which they use to find food. They stay at high elevation, between 1800–3500 m.
Distribution and conservation status
Plushcaps are considered of least concern due to their wide range in South America but it is thought that the number of individuals is declining. They tend to be common in their range.
The diet consists of small insects, berries, and plant material, and they typically foraging in small groups within mixed species flocks of wide diversity. The plushcap looks for insects by probing and pushing its bill into the stems and leaf nodes of the bamboo and prying them open. They also forage by running their bill along the stems of bamboo with a series of tiny biting motions. Plushcaps will often hang upside down while searching for the insects.
- Neotropical Birds 2011.
- The Birds of Ecuador
R. S. Ridgely, P. J. Greenfield 2001 New York Page 759
- Birds of Northern South America
R. Restall, C. Rodner, M. Lentino 2007 New Haven 674
- Complete Birds of the World
T. Harris 2009 Washington D.C. 358-360
- ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System