Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa)

Cover image by Pieter La Grange – Vleesbaai, Western Cape – BirdPix No. 239246


The Karoo Prinia is a small, pale and long-tailed warbler. The upperparts, including the cap, lores and ear coverts are warm grey-brown. The supercilium, face and throat are off-white. Underparts range from off-white to yellowish-white. The throat, chest, belly and flanks are heavily streaked in black. This streaking is boldest on the breast, while the throat is finely streaked. The tail is warm grey-brown and relatively long with buff-coloured tips and a dark mark near the tip of each tail feather (often difficult to discern in the field).

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa) 
Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve, Eastern Cape
Photo by Cobus Elstadt

Additionally the beak is black and the eyes are light brown, while the legs and feet are pink-brown.

The sexes are alike. The juveniles are yellowish below and have less marked streaking on the undersides.

Most easily mistaken for the Drakensberg Prinia (Prinia hypoxantha) and Namaqua Warbler (Phragmacia substriata). The Karoo Prinia is best told from these species by its far bolder streaking on the undersides and the finely streaked throat. Both Namaqua Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia lack streaking on the throat.

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Sybrand Venter

Status and Distribution

The Karoo Prinia is a common to very common species across its range. It is endemic to Southern Africa and is largely restricted to South Africa and Lesotho, but does also occur in southern Namibia, where it is less numerous. It ranges from extreme southern Namibia, south through the Northern and Western Cape and east to the drier drier parts the Eastern Cape. The distribution then ranges north through Lesotho to the central Free State. It is also found in the high Drakensberg mountains of Kwazulu-Natal, adjacent to Lesotho.

The Karoo Prinia has adapted to alien vegetation and is tolerant towards habitat modification. It is not considered threatened.

SABAP2 distribution map for Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa) – April 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


Habitat near Carnarvon, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The Karoo Prinia is a bird of scrub and rank growth, particularly along drainage lines. It is associated with karoo and fynbos shrublands in the west of its range, and grassland-scrub in Lesotho. The Karoo Prinia occurs in both mountainous and flat regions and across a wide rainfall range. In the Western Cape, the Karoo Prinia can be found in most habitats with the exception of forest.

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa) 
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Western Cape
Photo by Marius Meiring


An active and noisy species that moves around singly, in pairs or in loose family groups. They are vocally conspicuous and are seldom overlooked.

Forages low down in grass, shrubs and bushes. Gleans stems and leaves for small insects and other invertebrates.

Typically sits on top of a tall plant or similar perch when disturbed, calling with its tail cocked. Dives into vegetation and disappears when approached too closely. Becomes tame and confiding around human habitation.

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa) 
Near Barrydale, Western Cape
Photo by Johan and Estelle van Rooyen

The Karoo Prinia is considered resident. However, there is some evidence of local movements, probably relating to food scarcity in dry areas.

It has a well-marked breeding season from August to December with a peak during September and October. The Karoo Prinia is a monogamous, solitary nester. The nest is pear-shaped with a side-top entrance and is built by both sexes. It is usually positioned about 50cm above the ground among spiny bushes and tall grass where it is well concealed. The nest is normally attached to a few thin branches and is woven together with fine grass leaves, sometimes with the addition of wool or mohair.

Between 1 to 5 eggs are laid and incubation only starts once all eggs are laid to complete the clutch. Incubation takes around 13 days and incubation performed solely by the female. The chicks are then fed and cared for by both parents.

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa) 
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Western Cape
Photo by Daryl de Beer

Further Resources

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

The use of photographs by Cobus Elstadt, Daryl de Beer, Gerald Wingate, Johan and Estelle van Rooyen, Marius Meiring, Pieter La Grange and Sybrand Venter is acknowledged.

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

Other common names: Karoolangstertjie (Afrikaans); Ujiza (Xhosa); Prinia du Karroo (French); Karoo-prinia (Dutch); Fleckenprinie, Gelbbauchprinie (German); Prínia-malhada (Portuguese).

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa). Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2023/05/10/karoo-prinia-prinia-maculosa/

Bird identificationbirding

Karoo Prinia (Prinia maculosa
Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Photo by Gerald Wingate
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!