Jean Theodore Descourtilz (1796-1855) and the Ornithologie Bresilienne ou Histoire des Oiseaux du Bresil

Plate 47

Plate 47

Original Information on Plate

  • Jean Théodore Descourtilz
  • 1852-1856
  • 47 Icterus Voilaceus
  • Ink on Paper
  • L2010.85.90
  • W. Graham Arader III, Arader Galleries

Bird and Plant Information

The four birds depicted in Plate 47 are the Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis, top), the Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Amblyramphus holosericeus, center), the Sharpbill (Oxyruncus cristatus, bottom-right), and the Pampas Meadowlark (Sturnella defilippii, bottom-left). Of the four birds, O. cristatus is the only representative of the family Tyrannidae. The other three are in the family Icteridae.   A. holosericeus was originally identified as militaris, under the genus Sturnella, however, starlings and meadowlarks were historically considered the same genus but are now grouped differently.  S. defilippi was also originally mislabeled, however, it is more difficult to trace the taxonomic evolution of the bird given the fact that Descourtilz depicted a version that shares a mixture of both male and female attributes.  Descourtilz originally labeled the bird as  S. loika, which may be what he actually saw, but given his depiction of the bird, its exact identification remains inconclusive.

The plant species depicted in this plate is in the family Moraceae, most lilely in the genus Ficus.

Range Overlap:
Yellow: M. bonariensis
Red: S. defilippii
Green: A. holosericeus
Purple: O. cristatus

Ecological Inconsistecies: Range

The range of M. bonariensis is extensive and growing, and thus overlaps with the ranges of A. holosericeus, O. cristatus, and S. defilippii. The exception is a small lack of overlap in the southernmost point of the Guianas, where the range of O. cristatus reaches farther than that of M. bonariensis. Therefore, it is likely that M. bonariensis would be found in the vast majority of the ranges of the other birds.

A. holosericeus, O. cristatus, and S. defilippii have virtually no range overlap and are not likely to be found together. There is a slim chance that S. defilippii could be found in the same range area as A. holosericeus but with the scarcity of S. defilippii it would be an unusual occurrence.

Ecological Inconsistecies: Habitat

Although the range of M. bonariensis is extensive, it prefers open wooded areas and cultivated lands and is not likely to be found in thickly wooded areas, jungle, deserts, or mountains.  It could be found with A. holosericeus, which is known to frequent agricultural fields below 600m.  S. defilippii is also associated with the latter, although it is not often found in agricultural fields and prefers treeless lowland native grasslands. O. cristatus is most often found in dense forests and thus would not likely be found with the other birds.

Ecological Inconsistecies: Food

All four birds present on plate L2010.85.90 feed on insects although O. cristatus prefers fruits.

Ecological Inconsistecies: Plant Species

O. cristatus may eat the fruit of this plant, but the others are unlikely to feed off of the ficus as they are insectivorous.


Shiny Cowbird

Molothrus bonariensis, Plate 47, top

Plate 47, Top

Scientific Name: Molothrus bonariensis

Other Names:

  • Spanish: Tordo Renegrido
  • French: Vacher luisant
  • German: Seidenkuhstärling

Binomial name (nomenclature): Tanagra bonariensis J. F. Gmelin, 1789, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Genus: Molothrus

Family: Icteridae

Range M. bonariensis. Image source:

Range: Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Barbados; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; French Guiana; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guyana; Haiti; Martinique; Montserrat; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; United States; Uruguay; Venezuela; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.


Male: All black with an iridescent purple-blue sheen.

Female: Dark brown, paler underparts.

Habitat: Prefers open woodland. Flourishes in cultivated areas.

Food: Feeds mainly on insects, some seeds, and forages on the ground or perches on cattle.

Breeding: Most of South America other than dense jungle areas, mountains, deserts, areas of cold temperature, and the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. M. bonariensis parasitizes nests from other bird species sometimes removing the host’s eggs. It prefers the nests of Zonotrichia capensis and Fluvicola nengeta.

Voice: Male song is a “purr purr purrte-tseee” sound. The female makes a harsh rattling sound.

Status: Least Concern. M. bonariensis has a very large range, a very large population, and is increasing in population. Therefore, it is not a species of concern.


Scarlet-headed Blackbird

Plate 47: middle

Amblyramphus holosericeus, Plate 47, middle

Scientific Name: Amblyramphus holosericeus

Other Names:

  • Spanish: Federal
  • French: Carouge à tête rouge
  • German: Rotkopfstärling
  • Other common names: Scarlet-headed Marshbird, Orange-headed Blackbird

Binomial name (nomenclature):

  • Xanthornus (holosericeus), Scopoli, 1786, Panay Island, Philippines: error
  • Xanthornus (holosericeus), Scopoli, 1786, Paraná River Delta, Argentina
  • Amblyramphus holosericeus, Scopoli, 1786, Paraná River Delta, Argentina
  • Amblyramphus, Leach, 1814

Genus: Amblyramphus

Family: Icteridae

Range Amblyramphus holosericeus. Image credit:

Range: Northeastern Bolivia (Beni and Santa Cruz), most of Paraguay, and southern Brazil (South from Southern Mato Grosso and Santa Catarina, occasionally Paraná and possibly also São Paulo), south to northwestern and eastern Argentina, (northern Salta, Córdoba, and eastern Chaco south to Buenos Aires) and Uruguay.


Males and Females: Males 25cm in length, 86g. Female 22-25cm in length, 75g. Red and black, sharply pointed chisel-shaped bill which sometimes appears slightly upturned. Narrow loral stripe and eyelids black. Head, neck, upper breast, thigh bright scarlet-red. Remaining plumage black with slight gloss. Iris, bill, and legs black.

Juveniles: No red, plumage is brownish-black, paler and washed yellowish on throat and breast. Gradually acquires orange-red feathers on head. Older immature like adult but duller sometimes with brown feathers mixed in reddish areas.

Habitat: Found in tropical to warm-temperate marches with tall herbaceous vegetation such as Cyperus, Thalia, and Typha. Sometimes visits grasslands or agricultural fields near marshes below 600m.

Food: Feeds mostly on insects and has been reported to eat small frogs and cultivated maize and sorghum seeds. Specializes by extracting insect larvae and adults from stems of marsh plants using its chisel-shaped bill as a probe to open stems. Found as scattered pairs but during non-breeding season can be found in flocks up to 100 individuals.

Breeding: October-December in Central Argentina extending to February and March in northern Argentina. Monogamous and territorial (up to 40 hectares of territory). Nest built mostly by female with some help from the male. Nest is a sturdy cup-shaped structure built from strips of Typha leaves. Internal diameter of 8cm and 7cm in depth. Attached 1 meter above water to 4-7 plant stems in marsh, usually on Solanum malacoxylon, cat tails, and Cyperus. Clutch is 3-4 eggs, pale greenish-blue with small spots and blotches in dark brown. Incubation is by female and the male guards the nest. Incubation period is 13-14 days. Nests parasitized by Molothrus bonariensis but aggressive nest-guarding lowers parasitism.

Voice: Song may include rattles or nasal buzz. Contact call is a long, descending, and hesitant whistle “fee-ee-ee” with some pitch variations. Slight metallic quality and can be heard at long distances.

Status: Least Concern, not globally threatened. Listed as “vulnerable” in Argentina due to large-scale forestation of lower Paraná Delta with willows and poplars removing or altering natural habitats. Recent cattle-rearing on Rio Paraná islands leaving vegetation prone to fires may be impacting populations. Sometimes captured as a cage-bird. Found in several protected areas.



Oxyruncus cristatus, Plate 47, bottom right

Plate 47: bottom right

Scientific Name: Oxyruncus cristatus

Other Names:

  • Spanish: Picoagudo
  • French: Oxyrhynque huppé
  • German: Flammenkopfkotinga

Binomial name (nomenclature):

  • Oxyruncus, Temminck, 1820
  • Oxyruncus cristatus, Swainson, 1821

Taxonomy: Oxyrhyncus [sic] cristatus Swainson, 1821, Brazil

Genus: Oxyruncus

Family: Tyrannidae, Subfamily Cotinginae

Closest Relatives:

  • Tyrant Flycatcher
  • Cotinga
  • Manakin of the Superfamily Tyrannoidea

Range Oxyruncus cristatus. Image source:

Range: Humid montane forests of Panama, Costa Rica, southeastern Venezuela, southern Guyana, Surinam, northeastern & southeastern Brazil, southern Paraguay, central Peru.

Description: Both male and female O. cristatus are green with a white spotted torso. They are most often found in pairs or small groups and in mixed species with Tanagers, Furnariids, Troupials, Cotingas and Woodpeckers.

Habitat: Most often found in dense forests though occasionally spotted feeding on fruits as the forest edge or in solitary trees Found primarily in foothill forests.

Food: Feeds primarily on fruits and sometimes on insects. Have been spotted hanging upside-down to catch insect larvae.

Breeding: Nest is built by the female, shaped like a small cup.

Voice: Male’s song is a highly distinctive, long, electric buzz descending greatly in pitch.

Status: Least Concern


Pampas Meadowlark

Sturnella defilippii, Plate 47, bottom left

Plate 47: bottom left

Scientific Name: Sturnella defilippii

Other Names:

  • Spanish: Loica Pampeana
  • French: Sturnelle des pampas
  • German: Schwarzschenkelstärling
  • Other common names: Military Starling, Lesser (Red-breasted) Meadowlark, Red-breasted Meadowlark

Binomial name (nomenclature):

  • Sturnella militaris, Linnaeus, 1771
  • Sturnella defilippii, Bonaparte, 1851

Taxonomy: Discovered by Bonaparte, 1850, Montevideo, Uruguay

Genus: Sturnella

Family: Icteridae

Range Sturnella defilippii. Red: possibly extinct. Yellow: resident
Image source:

Range: Northern Uruguay, central eastern Argentina


Male: 21cm, 73.6g. Head and side of neck are black, long white superciliary line becoming red in front of eye, white submoustachial stripe and lower eyelid.  Mostly dusky brown with brown streaks, barred upper tail, tail blackish with thin olive barring. Upperwing coverts rosy red, chin to belly rosy red, side of breast, flank and vent black. Underwing coverts black with red marginal coverts. Supercilium buff, bill silver-grey, culmen and tip dark, legs dark brown.

Female: 21cm, 67.5kg. Paler and browner than male with a white throat and streaked underparts enclosing a pale pink-red lower breast.

Juvenile: Similar to female but no red underparts and bill horn-colored.

Habitat: Habitat is native grasslands and pastures. They are rarely found in agricultural fields. Primarily found in treeless areas in lowlands up to 900m.

Food: Feeds on insects and seeds and forages in small groups. When non-breeding they have been seen in flocks of hundreds.

Breeding: 82% nest in natural grassland. In Argentina S. defilippii breeds in Baccharis, Stipa, and Piptochactium grasses. In Uruguay it breeds in native grassland mixed with Baccharis frimera. Agricultural lands that have been abandoned for 5 years or more are suitable for nesting.

Voice: The male flight song is variable and musical combining ascending and descending whistles with a loud, sustained note, with the last notes soft. The perched song, sung mostly while on bunch grass, includes final buzzy or rasping notes resembling S. loyca.

Status: Listed as vulnerable, rare to locally uncommon, and in rapid decline. Ranges have declined in Argentina and Uruguay. The main cause is the replacement of grasslands with crops and planted pasture, interspecific competition with two sympatric meadowlarks (Sturnella superciliaris and Sturnella loyca), and unprotected breeding areas.