Family Cisticolas and allies (Cisticolidae)

Least Concern

Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais)


French: Cisticole plaintive German: Trauerzistensänger Spanish: Cistícola plañidero

Drymoica lais

Hartlaub and Finsch

, 1870,

Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Race distinctus sometimes treated as a separate species, but is vocally identical to other races of present species#R. Inclusion of populations from NE South Africa in race mashona requires further investigation; birds from Chimanimani Mts, in E Zimbabwe, probably represent a local variant of mashona, although superficially similar to oreobates. Proposed race oreodytes (Drakensberg, South Africa) included in nominate#R. Eight subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. l. distinctus Lynes, 1930 – Lynes's Cisticola – E Uganda, Kenya and N Tanzania.
  • C. l. namba Lynes, 1931 – W Angola.
  • C. l. semifasciatus Reichenow, 1905 – S Tanzania, NE Zambia, Malawi and N Mozambique.
  • C. l. oreobates Irwin, 1966 – Mt Gorongosa, in C Mozambique.
  • C. l. mashona Lynes, 1930 – E highlands of Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique and NE South Africa.
  • C. l. monticola Roberts, 1913 – N South Africa (Gauteng and E North West Province).
  • C. l. lais (Hartlaub & Finsch, 1870) – Wailing Cisticola – E South Africa and Lesotho.
  • C. l. maculatus Lynes, 1930 – S South Africa (S Western Cape E to Port Elizabeth).
  • Descriptive notes

    13–14 cm; male 13–18 g, female 10–14 g. A medium-sized, streak-backed cisticola with fairly long graduated tail, and grey back contrasting with rufous crown... read more


    Male song a strident, ascending rattle preceded by a few stuttering notes, “t-t-trrrreeeeee... read more


    Montane grassland, favouring rocky slopes with grass or short scrub, including Protea... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet mainly insects and other invertebrates, including weevils and beetles (Coleoptera), termite alates (Isoptera), grasshoppers (... read more


    Breeds Oct–Mar, following first rains; in Malawi breeds earlier at higher elevations (driven by earlier rains). Probably monogamous;... read more


    Little known; presumably mostly resident. Reported as descending to lower elevations in S Africa (... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common in most of range; isolated race namba not uncommon in Angola. Recorded inter-nest distances sometimes less than 50 m, suggesting... read more

    Recommended citation

    Ryan, P. & Dean, R. (2019). Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais). 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 20 August 2019).