Restinga Antwren – a Rio de Janeiro state endemic?

Male Restinga Antwren <em>Formicivora littoralis</em> (&copy; Nicholas Locke)
Male Restinga Antwren Formicivora littoralis (© Nicholas Locke)
Female Restinga Antwren <em>Formicivora littoralis</em> (&copy; Nicholas Locke)
Female Restinga Antwren Formicivora littoralis (© Nicholas Locke)

When we think of Rio de Janeiro state we wonder if it has any endemic bird species. Indeed though Brazil boasts 1600 bird species, Rio de Janeiro state, one of Brazil’s smaller states, with its moutains covered in spectacular Atlantic Rainforest it boasts only four endemic species; the Grey-winged Cotinga Tijuca condita from the mountain tops, the little known Rio de Janeiro Antwren Myrmotherula fluminensis, the possibly extinct Kinglet Calyptura Calyptura cristata and the Critically Endangered Restinga Antwren Formicivora littoralis. This small antwren split was split from Serra Antwren Formicivora serrana in 1990, and has a very restricted range.

REGUA runs excursions to take guests to the restinga sand dune vegetation near Cabo Frio to see these very special birds. They are often seen in pairs scuttling in the undergrowth and recently we found a pair and registered these images. The restinga vegetation type is very special and is still under threat from the construction of seaside resorts, so the establishment of conservation sites is most important for the future of this unique species. On 15 April, a new reserve was established in Rio de Janeiro state to protect this ecosystem, the State Park of the Costa del Sol (PECS).

But is Restinga Antwren actually a good species? The latest issue of Neotropical Birding (Autumn 2011) reports that a recent study by Daniel Firme and Marcos Raposo has found insufficient characteristics to split Restinga Antwren from Serra Antwren, and that Restinga Antwren is best treated as a subspecies. Either way, our excursion to Cabo Frio to see this charasmatic bird is well worth it. At certain times of the year you might also even find small numbers of Magellanic Penguins Spheniscus magellanicus and tubenoses offshore, as well as a wide variety of North Amercian waders wintering on the salt lagoons.