Cleaner birds: an overview for the Neotropics


  • Ivan Sazima Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Museu de Zoologia
  • Cristina Sazima Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Departamento de Biologia Animal


cleaning symbiosis, opportunistic birds, association with vertebrates, ectoparasite and tissue removal


Several bird species feed on a variety of external parasites and epibionts, organic debris, dead and wounded tissue, clots and blood, and secretions from the body of other vertebrates (hosts or clients). We present an overview of so called cleaner birds from the Neotropics based on field records, literature, and photo survey. We found that 33 bird species in 16 families practice cleaning even if some of them do so very occasionally. The birds range from the Galápagos ground finch Geospiza fuliginosa to the widespread black vulture Coragyps atratus. Clients mostly are large herbivores such as capybaras, deer, and livestock, but also include medium-sized herbivores such as iguanas and tortoises, and carnivores such as boobies and seals - a few bird species associate with these latter marine mammals. No carnivorous terrestrial mammal client is recorded to date except for a domestic dog, from whose hair black vultures picked organic debris. Some clients adopt particular inviting postures while being cleaned, whereas others are indifferent or even disturbed by the activity of cleaner birds. Capybaras, giant tortoises, and iguanas are among the inviting clients, whereas boobies try to dislodge the 'vampire' finch Geospiza difficilis. Most of the Neotropical cleaner birds may be lumped in one broad category (omnivores that dwell in open areas and associate with large to medium-sized herbivores). A second, restricted category accommodates some species from Patagonia and the Galápagos Islands (omnivores that dwell in open areas and associate with carnivorous marine mammals, or seabirds and marine reptiles). Two still more restricted categories accommodate the following: 1) forest-dwelling cleaner birds; and 2) marine coastal cleaners. Additional records of Neotropical cleaner birds will mostly fall in the broad category.




How to Cite

Sazima, I., & Sazima, C. (2010). Cleaner birds: an overview for the Neotropics. Biota Neotropica, 10(4). Retrieved from //




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