Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra)

Identification

The Cape Robin-Chat can be identified by its dark grey back, orange throat, white “eyebrows” and its orange rump and tail feathers. It has pale grey underparts and dark legs and feet. Males and females are alike.

Photo: BirdPix 18069 – Gregg & Desire Darling, St Francis Bay, Eastern Cape, 06 June 2015.

Juvenile birds are browner with buff spotting and no distinct facial markings. They have dull buffy brown underparts with mottling on the chest. Their tails are rufous with grey feathers down the centre.

The Cape Robin-Chat has a wonderful melodious call consisting of a few phrases. They often mimic other birds too. Take a listen here.

Habitat

Cape Robin-Chats can be found in a wide variety of habitats, but they prefer areas with quite dense undergrowth and scattered trees, bushes, rocks or other structures to use for perching, along with surface water for drinking and bathing. They love suburban gardens and can become quite tame.

Photo left: BirdPix 11937 – Dave Kennedy, Weltevreden Park, Johannesburg, Gauteng, 27 May 2014. Photo right: BirdPix 52856 – Anthony Archer, Orkney, Free State Province, 03 May 2018. Photo centre: BirdPix 89082 – Keir Lynch, Bredasdorp, Western Cape, 20 August 2019.
Cape Robin-Chat jumping about in the branches of a tree: BirdPix 180376 – Johan & Estelle Van Rooyen, Riversdale, Western Cape, 27 July 2021.

Distribution

Occurs in patches from southern Sudan to Kenya, eastern DRC and Tanzania, with the largest population in southern Africa. It occurs across most of South Africa as indicated by the SABAP2 map below. The blue and green squares are the areas with the highest reporting rates for Cape Robin-Chat.

SABAP2 distribution map for Cape Robin-Chat, downloaded 08 March 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

Behaviour

The Cape Robin-Chat moves about singly with a hopping gait, and often perches in prominent positions. It regularly jerks up its tail in an upright position, almost as if standing to attention. When landing on a perch or on the ground it often flicks its wings and rapidly fans its tail. Cape Robin-Chats take a bath daily, so if you have a bird bath in your garden, keep an eye out for this water-loving bird.

Cape Robin-Chat with its tail flicked up: BirdPix 27988 – Gregg Darling, St Francis Bay, Eastern Cape, 02 July 2016.

They mainly eat insects and other invertebrates, supplemented with fruit and seeds plucked from bushes, trees or from the ground. They do a lot of foraging in leaf litter, flicking through plant debris in search of food.

Cape Robin-Chat taking a bath: BirdPix 45220 – Desire Darling, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, 21 October 2017. Cape Robin-Chat with mealworm: BirdPix 84134 – Gerald Wingate, Bellville, Western Cape, 27 April 2019.

The Cape Robin-Chat is a highly territorial and solitary nester. The male aggressively defends his territory against other males as well as other species, such as white-eyes, sunbirds and doves! The nest is built, usually by the female, by gathering a clump of material together and then she shuffles her body into the nest to form a cup shape. The nest is usually made out of bark fragments, twigs, dry grass, fern fronds, rootlets, dead leaves, moss and seed pods and lined with finer fibres.

Cape Robin-Chat nest with eggs: BirdPix 146927 – Anthony Paton, Maanhaarrand, North West Province, 02 January 2010.

Further resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

More common names: Gewone Janfrederik (Afrikaans); Ugaga (Xhosa); umBhekle (Zulu); Cossyphe du Cap (French); Kaprötel (German); Kaapse Lawaaimaker (Dutch).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. Cape Robin-Chat Cossypha caffra. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2022/03/08/cape-robin-chat-cossypha-caffra/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.