For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Cisticola.


Zitting cisticola (Cisticola juncidis)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Cisticolidae
Genus: Cisticola
Kaup, 1829
Type species
Sylvia cisticola[1]
Temminck, 1820

see text

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 50 species, of which only two are not found in Africa: one in Madagascar and the other from Asia to Australasia. They are also sometimes called fantail-warblers due to their habit of conspicuously flicking their tails, or tailor-birds because of their nests.


The genus was erected by the German naturalist Johann Jakob Kaup in 1829. The type species, by tautonymy, is Sylvia cisticola Temminck, 1820, now considered as a subspecies of Sylvia juncidis Rafinesque 1810, the zitting cisticola.[2][3] The name Cisticola is from Ancient Greek kisthos, "rock-rose", and Latin colere, "to dwell".[4]

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.

The zitting cisticola (or fan-tailed warbler) is widespread throughout the tropics and even breeds in southern Europe. It has occurred on a few occasions as a vagrant to England.


Male golden-headed cisticola and nest

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.

List of species

The genus contains 53 species:[5]


  1. ^ "Cisticolidae". The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-07-15.
  2. ^ Kaup, Johann Jakob (1829). Skizzirte Entwickelungs-Geschichte und natürliches System der europäischen Thierwelt (in German). Darmstadt: Carl Wilhelm Leske. p. 119.
  3. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1986). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 11. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 84.
  4. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ Olsson, U.; Irestedt, M.; Sangster, G.; Ericson, P.G.P.; Alström, P. (2013). "Systematic revision of the avian family Cisticolidae based on a multi-locus phylogeny of all genera". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 66 (3): 790–799. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2012.11.004. PMID 23159891.
  6. ^ a b Fjeldså, Jon; Dinesen, Lars; Davies, Owen R.; Irestedt, Martin; Krabbe, Niels K.; Hansen, Louis A.; Bowie, Rauri C. K. (2021). "Description of two new Cisticola species endemic to the marshes of the Kilombero floodplain of southwestern Tanzania". Ibis. 163 (4): 1330–1354. doi:10.1111/ibi.12971. ISSN 1474-919X. S2CID 236584599.
  7. ^ Ryan, P.; Dean, R. (2020). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. doi:10.2173/bow.waicis1.01. S2CID 216324448. Retrieved 27 August 2017.

Further reading

  • 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
{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?