Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis)

Cover image: Rufous-eared Warbler by Lance Robinson – Biesiesvlei, Free State –  BirdPix No. 253422


The Rufous-eared Warbler is a small, Prinia-like species. It was formerly regarded as a Prinia, but is now accepted as being the only species in the genus Malcorus.

Identification of Rufous-eared Warbler
Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) 
Middelburg district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

If seen clearly, it is difficult to misidentify. The face and ear coverts are bright chestnut-brown, the rest of the head and upperparts are buff-grey with black streaks. The underparts are white to off-white with buff-coloured flanks. The throat is a cleaner white with a narrow black collar separating the throat and breast. The tail is buff-brown and is long, slender and graduated.

The sexes closely resemble one another but males have a more clearly defined collar and a brighter facial patch. Juveniles are similar to adults but have a fainter, and less distinct throat collar.

Rufous-eared Warbler
Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) 
Colesberg district, Northern Cape
Photo by Philip Nieuwoudt

Status and Distribution

Rufous-eared Warbler
Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The Rufous-eared Warbler is endemic to southern Africa and occurs from the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State northwards into Namibia and southern Botswana. Its centre of abundance lies in the Nama Karoo. It is a common resident but may move locally in response to rain.

The Rufous-eared Warbler occurs in semi-arid vegetation which is unsuitable for agriculture and is unlikely to be impacted by present land-use practices. There is evidence of localised range contractions in parts of the Western Cape, however, the Rufous-eared Warbler is not considered threatened.

SABAP2 distribution map for Rufous-eared Warbler
SABAP2 distribution map for Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) – October 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The Rufous-eared Warbler occurs in arid and semi-arid shrubland on plains and on hill-sides, as well as shrubby vegetation in drainage lines. It also inhabits scrub around the edges of dry pans. It prefers areas of sparse scrub with grass and some taller bushes. The Rufous-eared Warbler is most frequent in Karoo and Kalahari vegetation types.

Habitat for Rufous-eared Warbler
Habitat near Carnarvon, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Rufous-eared Warbler is an active species that moves around singly, in pairs or in loose family groups. They are conspicuous when calling from the top of bushes but can be difficult to locate when not vocalising, as they tend to forage low down or on the ground at the base of shrubs. When disturbed they bound away at ground-level to disappear between bushes and grass tufts. They move quickly over the ground and often appear quite rodent-like.

Malcorus pectoralis
Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis)
Middelplaas, Western Cape
Photo by Johan Van Rooyen

The Rufous-eared Warbler gleans stems and leaves for small insects and other invertebrates, often beginning at the base of a bush and making its way to the top before diving down to the base of the next shrub. The diet consists Eats mostly of invertebrates including many insects such as caterpillars, beetles, termites, bugs, ants and grasshoppers. They also take various small spiders and ticks. Some small fruits or berries are also consumed when available.

Breeding has been recorded in all months, but mainly September to December. Most breeding follows good rains, but breeding in the late winter and early summer period may occur regardless of rainfall.

The Rufous-eared Warbler is monogamous and territorial. During courtship display, the male sings while facing the female as he flutters his wings and jerks his body and tail.

Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) with fluffy grass seeds for lining the nest.
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The nest is oval-shaped and sits upright with a side-top entrance. It is rather untidy and is made of dry grass leaves and stems, or other similar fine plant fibres and is bound together with spider web and lined with fluffy plant seeds. The nest is placed around 50cm to a meter above ground in a spiny shrub or bush.

The female lays 2-7 plain white to pale bluish white eggs per clutch (It is thought that large clutches may be laid by two females). The incubation period lasts around two weeks but further details regarding incubation are unrecorded. The nestling or fledging period lasts for another two weeks during which time the young are fed and cared for by both parents.

Further Resources

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

The use of photographs by JC van Rensburg, Johan Van Rooyen, Lance Robinson, Philip Nieuwoudt and Tino Herselman is acknowledged.

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

Other common names: Rooioorlangstertjie (Afrikaans); Prinia à joues rousses (French); Roodoorprinia (Dutch); Rotbackensänger (German); Felosa-de-faces-ruivas (Portuguese).

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at

Bird identificationbirding

Malcorus pectoralis
Rufous-eared Warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) 
Karoo National Park, Western Cape
Photo by JC van Rensburg
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!