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Cape Robin-Chat - BirdForum Opus

Subspecies caffra
Photo © by nick scarle
Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, 1 September 2016
Cossypha caffra


Subspecies iolaema
Photo © by Mick Harris
Simba Farm Lodge,West Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 28 November 2017

Length 16-17 cm (6¼-6¾ in)


  • Grey above
  • Black sides of face and behind eye
  • White supercilium
  • Orange chin, throat, central breast, rump, under-tail coverts and outer tail feathers
  • Grey-brown central tail feathers
  • Pale grey belly
  • Black, down curved bill
  • Brown iris
  • Pink-grey legs and feet

Sexes similar


  • Spotted buff-marked dark brown upperparts
  • Scaled dusky underparts
  • Grey-brown breast

Similar Species

Juvenile subspecies caffra
Photo © by Alan Manson
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 17 December 2007


Western Africa: found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Eastern Africa: South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi
Southern Africa: Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho and eSwatini.


Robin-chats were formerly classified as members of the Thrush family (Turdidae), but as first proposed by Sibley and Monroe (1991)[4] are now usually recognized as members of the Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae).

Recent results indicate that this species does not belong in genus Cossypha. It might instead be placed in Bessonornis, Dessonornis or even Caffrornis. The Opus awaits clarification before acting on this.


This is a polytypic species: there are 4-7 subspecies depending on the authority[1]:

  • C. c. iolaema:
  • C. c. kivuensis:
  • Eastern DRC (Kivu highlands) and south-western [[Uganda]
  • Like iolaema but more richly colored below.
  • C. c. namaquensis:
  • Southern Namibia to Orange Free State and western Transvaal
  • Like nominate but larger with stronger supercilium
  • C. c. caffra:

The subspecies drakensbergi and vespera along with ardens are generally considered invalid[2].


Forest edges, bushveld, scrub and fynbos, gardens and parks.



They build a cup-shaped nest from coarse vegetation, lined with animal hair and rootlets. Sometimes victim of brood parasitism by Red-chested Cuckoo


The diet includes a wide variety of insects, spiders, caterpillars invertebrates, small frogs, lizards and some fruit and other vegetable matter.


Call a distinctive guttural "wur-da-churr." The Afrikaans name for this species, “JAN Frederik” gives the rhythm of its call, with the end-notes run together. Song by both sexes (female usually shorter and muted) a series of repetitive melodious high pitched phrases starting with soft down-slurred whistles. Also may mimic other species.


Mainly resident with limited altitudinal movement during dry winter season.


Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, S. M. Billerman, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2022. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2022. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F, D Donsker, and P Rasmussen (Eds). 2022. IOC World Bird List (v 12.2) DRAFT. Doi 10.14344/IOC.ML.12.2. http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  3. Avibase
  4. Collar, N. (2018). Cape Robin-chat (Dessonornis caffer). 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 https://www.hbw.com/node/58442 on 24 June 2018).
  5. Sibley, C. G. and Monroe, B. L . 1991. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
  6. Sinclair, I., Hockey, P.A.R., and Arlott, N. (2005). The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town. ISBN 978-1775840992
  1. Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. 2010. Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.
  2. Wikipedia

Recommended Citation

External Links

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