African hill babbler

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African hill babbler
African Hill Babbler - Kenya S4E9067 (19493757201).jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Sylviidae
Genus: Pseudoalcippe
Species: P. abyssinica
Binomial name
Pseudoalcippe abyssinica
(Rüppell, 1840)
  • Alcippe abyssinica
  • Illadopsis abyssinica
  • Illadopsis stierlingi
  • Sylvia abyssinica

The African hill babbler (Pseudoalcippe abyssinica) is a species of bird in the family Sylviidae and it has been suggested that it be placed in the genus Sylvia with such familiar European species as the Eurasian blackcap and common whitethroat.


The African hill babbler was described by the German naturalist Eduard Rüppell in 1840 under the binomial name Drymophila abyssinica. The type locality is the Simen Mountains, northern Ethiopia.[3][4]

There are currently six recognised subspecies:[5]

  • P. a. monachus (Reichenow, 1892) – Mount Cameroon
  • P. a. claudei (Alexander, 1903) – Bioko Island (formerly Fernando Póo)
  • P. a. ansorgei (Rothschild, 1918) – west-central Angola, south-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and western Tanzania
  • P. a. stierlingi (Reichenow, 1898) – eastern and south-western Tanzania, the Nyika Plateau in north eastern Zambia and northern Malawi and north western Mozambique
  • P. a. stictigula (Shelley, 1903) – north eastern Zambia, northern Malawi and north west Mozambique
  • P. a. abyssinica (Rüppell, 1840) – central Ethiopia, eastern South Sudan, eastern Uganda, western and southern Kenya and north eastern Tanzania

The distinctive black-headed Ruwenzori hill babbler (Pseudoalcippe atriceps) has been considered as a subspecies. Fry et al. (2000) state it has the same vocalizations and behaviour as other races, and do not give it the status of a separate species.[6][7]

This species has recently been proposed to be a member of the genus Sylvia, a mostly Palearctic group, if that proposal was generally accepted the name would be Sylvia abyssinica.[2]


The African hill babbler is an arboreal robin-like forest bird with a thin bill, bright reddish brown back and a contrasting grey head and nape. The grey underparts are faintly marked with white streaks and the belly is paler than the breast. There is a yellowish tinge to the feathers on the flanks and the thighs The brown eyes turn red, probably when the birds are breeding. The bill has a black upper mandible, a paler lower mandible and the legs are greyish blue.[8] The African hill babbler weighs 14-25g and their length is 13–15 cm.[6]


The song of the African hill babbler is a rich, melodious warble and resembles the songs of thrushes and orioles and is composed of separated whistled phrase with frequent pitch changes, may have some scratch notes and lower pitched whistles too.[8]


The African hill babbler has a disjointed distribution in the highland regions of western and central Africa from south eastern Nigeria east to central Ethiopia and south to northwestern Mozambique.[6]


The natural habitats of the African hill babbler are montane forest and adjacent secondary forest, in dense undergrowth at forest edge and in clearings.[7] Also in gallery forest.[8]


The African hill babbler lives in pairs which forage with 2m of the ground, gleaning insects from leaves and picking fruit. It will also feed in the canopy and will join mixed species foraging flocks.[7] Usually keeps concealed among creepers and vines and is most often detected by voice.[9]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Sylvia abyssinica". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "African hill babbler Sylvia abyssinica (Rüppell, 1840)". Avibase. Denis Lepage. Archived from the original on 2016-11-08. Retrieved 2016-11-07. 
  3. ^ Rüppell, Eduard (1840). Neue Wirbelthiere zu der Fauna von Abyssinien gehörig (in German). Frankfurt am Main: S. Schmerber. p. 110, Plate 40 fig. 2. 
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, eds. (1964). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 412. 
  5. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Sylviid babblers, parrotbills & white-eyes". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c "African Hill Babbler (Pseudoalcippe abyssinica)". Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions. Archived from the original on 2016-09-13. Retrieved 2016-11-07. 
  7. ^ a b c Borrow, Nik; Demey, Ron (2001). Birds of Western Africa. A & C Black. p. 679. ISBN 0-7136-3959-8. 
  8. ^ a b c Zimmerman, Dale A.; Turner, Donald A.; Pearson, David J. (1996). Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Helm. p. 530. ISBN 0-7136-3968-7. 
  9. ^ Sinclair, Ian; Ryan, Peter (2003). Birds of Africa south of the Sahara. Struik. p. 408. ISBN 1-86872-857-9. 
  • Collar, N. J. & Robson, C. 2007. Family Timaliidae (Babblers) pp. 70 – 291 in; del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 12. Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  • Fry, C. H., S. Keith, and E. K. Urban. 1988. The Birds of Africa. Vol. 3. Academic Press, London.

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