Cisticolas (pronounced sis-TIC-olas) are a genus of very small insectivorous birds formerly classified in the Old World warbler family Sylviidae, but now usually considered to be in the separate family Cisticolidae, along with other southern warbler genera. They are believed to be quite closely related to the swallows and martins, the bulbuls and the white-eyes. The genus contains about 45 species, of which only two are not found in Africa: one in Madagascar and the other from Asia to Australasia.
Their generic name, Cisticola, means inhabitant (-cola) of a woven basket (cista-), referring to the finely woven nest of the zitting cisticola, the most widespread species. They are also sometimes called fantail-warblers due to their habit of conspicuously flicking their tails, or tailor-birds because of their nests.
Range and habitat
Cisticolas are widespread through the Old World's tropical and sub-tropical regions. Africa, which is home to almost all species, is the most likely ancestral home of the group. Cisticolas are usually non-migratory with most species attached to and often distinguishable by their habitats.
A variety of open habitats are occupied. These include wetlands, moist or drier grasslands, open or rocky mountain slopes, and human-modified habitats such as road verges, cultivation, weedy areas or pasture. The species preferring wetlands can be found at the edges of mangrove, or in papyrus, common reed, or typha swamps. Cisticolas are generally quite common within what remains of their preferred habitats.
Because of their small size (about 10 cm) and brown plumage, they are more easily heard than seen. The similar plumage of many species can make them hard to identify, particularly in winter when they seldom emerge from their grasses. Many African species, in particular, are difficult to distinguish other than by their calls. Thirteen species are named for their calls, from "singing" and "chirping" to "bubbling" and "siffling".
Male cisticolas are polygamous. The female builds a discreet nest deep in the grasses, often binding living leaves into the soft fabric of felted plant down, cobweb, and grass: a cup shape for the zitting cisticola with a canopy of tied-together leaves or grasses overhead for camouflage, a full dome for the golden-headed cisticola. The average clutch is about 4 eggs, which take about 2 weeks to hatch. The parasitic weaver is a specialist parasite of cisticolas and prinias.
In summer, male cisticolas of smaller species make spectacular display flights while larger species perch in prominent places to sing lustily. Despite his size and well-camouflaged, brown-streaked plumage, the male golden-headed cisticola of Australia and southern Asia produces a small, brilliant splash of golden-yellow colour in the dappled sunlight of a reed bed.
Species in taxonomic order
- Red-faced cisticola, Cisticola erythrops
- Singing cisticola, Cisticola cantans
- Whistling cisticola, Cisticola lateralis
- Chattering cisticola, Cisticola anonymus
- Trilling cisticola, Cisticola woosnami
- Bubbling cisticola, Cisticola bulliens
- Chubb's cisticola, Cisticola chubbi
- Hunter's cisticola, Cisticola hunteri
- Black-lored cisticola, Cisticola nigriloris
- Rock-loving cisticola, Cisticola aberrans
- Boran cisticola, Cisticola bodessa
- Rattling cisticola, Cisticola chiniana
- Ashy cisticola, Cisticola cinereolus
- Red-pate cisticola, Cisticola ruficeps
- Dorst's cisticola, Cisticola guinea - formerly C. dorsti or included in C. ruficeps
- Tinkling cisticola, Cisticola rufilatus
- Grey-backed cisticola, Cisticola subruficapilla
- Brown-backed cisticola, Cisticola discolor
- Wailing cisticola, Cisticola lais
- Tana River cisticola, Cisticola restrictus
- Churring cisticola, Cisticola njombe
- Winding cisticola, Cisticola galactotes
- Chirping cisticola, Cisticola pipiens
- Carruthers's cisticola, Cisticola carruthersi
- Levaillant's cisticola, Cisticola tinniens
- Stout cisticola, Cisticola robustus
- Croaking cisticola, Cisticola natalensis
- Neddicky, Cisticola fulvicapilla
- Aberdare cisticola, Cisticola aberdare
- Long-tailed cisticola, Cisticola angusticauda
- Black-tailed cisticola, Cisticola melanurus
- Short-winged cisticola, Cisticola brachypterus
- Rufous cisticola, Cisticola rufus
- Foxy cisticola, Cisticola troglodytes
- Tiny cisticola, Cisticola nana
- Zitting cisticola, Cisticola juncidis
- Socotra cisticola, Cisticola haesitatus
- Madagascan cisticola, Cisticola cherina
- Desert cisticola, Cisticola aridulus
- Cloud cisticola, Cisticola textrix
- Black-backed cisticola, Cisticola eximius
- Dambo cisticola, Cisticola dambo
- Pectoral-patch cisticola, Cisticola brunnescens
- Pale-crowned cisticola, Cisticola cinnamomeus
- Wing-snapping cisticola, Cisticola ayresii
- Golden-headed cisticola, Cisticola exilis
- Barlow, Wacher and Disley, Birds of The Gambia ISBN 1-873403-32-1
- Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom and Grant, Collins Bird Guide ISBN 0-00-219728-6
- Nguembock B.; Fjeldsa J.; Tillier A.; Pasquet E. (2007): A phylogeny for the Cisticolidae (Aves: Passeriformes) based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence data, and a re-interpretation of a unique nest-building specialization. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 42: 272-286.
- Ryan, Peter (2006). Family Cisticolidae (Cisticolas and allies). Pp. 378–492 in del Hoyo J., Elliott A. & Christie D.A. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers Lynx Edicions, Barcelona ISBN 978-84-96553-06-4
- Sinclair, I.; Hockey, P. & Tarboton, W. SASOL Birds of Southern Africa (Struik 2002) ISBN 1-86872-721-1
- Urban, E.K.; Fry, C.H. & Keith, S. (1997) The Birds of Africa, vol. 5. Academic Press, London. ISBN 0-12-137305-3
- Cisticola videos on the Internet Bird Collection