Family Cisticolas and allies (Cisticolidae)

Least Concern

Grey-backed Cisticola (Cisticola subruficapilla)


French: Cisticole à dos gris German: Bergzistensänger Spanish: Cistícola dorsigrís

Drymoica subruficapilla

A. Smith

, 1843,

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa


Angolan and N Namibian population is disjunct from the main population of S Namibia and South Africa; may represent a separate species. Proposed race euroa (Free State, in E South Africa) synonymized with jamesi. Six subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. s. newtoni A. A. R. Pinto, 1967 – extreme SW Angola (Namibe) and NW Namibia.
  • C. s. windhoekensis (Roberts, 1937) – Namib Cisticola – NC Namibia.
  • C. s. karasensis (Roberts, 1937) – S Namibia S to South Africa (interior of Northern Cape).
  • C. s. namaqua Lynes, 1930 – Succulent karoo region of Northern Cape, in South Africa.
  • C. s. subruficapilla (A. Smith, 1843) – Red-headed Cisticola – Western Cape (South Africa).
  • C. s. jamesi Lynes, 1930 – Plain-breasted Cisticola – Eastern Cape (South Africa).
  • Descriptive notes

    12–13 cm; male 10–15 g, female 8–12 g. A medium-small, streak-backed cisticola with fairly long graduated tail, and grey back contrasting with rusty brown... read more


    Male song, given all year, a trill, “tr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r”, slower than that of C. lais,... read more


    Shrublands, including renosterveld, sandplain and mountain fynbos, open strandveld, dune scrub,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet mainly insects and other invertebrates, including beetles and their larvae (Coleoptera), ants (Hymenoptera), termites (Isoptera),... read more


    Nesting Jul–Feb. Usually monogamous, but male plays little part in chick-rearing and may be serially polygynous; one male attended... read more


    Little known; presumably mostly resident, but may move locally in arid areas in response to rain.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to abundant; especially numerous in renosterveld-Karoo fringe. Density of up to 0·15 birds/ha in mountain fynbos in Western Cape, in South... read more

    Recommended citation

    Ryan, P. & Dean, R. (2019). Grey-backed Cisticola (Cisticola subruficapilla). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 17 September 2019).