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Cape Robin-Chat
(Cossypha caffra)

Cape Robin-Chat

General description

The sexes are similar with pale orange throat and grey sides to neck, breast and belly. Unlikely to be confused with other robins in the same territory.

The short, black bill is fairly straight, but with a slightly down-curved upper mandible.

The Cape robin-chat has a guttural, trisyllabic alarm call, which may be rendered as "wur-de-dur". It has given rise to several local names, including “Jan frederik”, which matches the rhythm of the call if the last syllables are run together. This call is also given year-round when arriving at, or departing from a roost.

Name & classification

Scientific name:
Cossypha caffra

Common names:
Cape Robin-Chat (English)
Gewone Janfrederik (Afrikaans)

Cape Robin

Roberts VII english name:
Cape Robin-Chat

Roberts VII scientific name:
Cossypha caffra

Chats and Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)

Further information



Generally Cape Robin-chats forage close to or on ground level, but will on occasion glean bark and foliage in tall trees. It prefers the cover of vegetation, but is not very shy.

Invertebrates, small frogs and lizards are obtained in scrub or on leaf litter. In addition fruit and seeds are plucked from plants or eaten on the ground.

Occasionally an insect may be hawked in the air, or invertebrates may be gleaned from leaves, branches or rocks.

It moves about singly with a hopping gait, and often perches in prominent positions. It also roosts singly up to 3 metres above ground, in dense cover.

The tail is regularly jerked up to an angle of 60 degrees, and upon alighting it may flick the wings and rapidly fan the tail.

It bathes daily, even in tide pools.

Cape Robin-Chats are monogamous and highly territorial nesters. A pair's territory usually comprises some fraction of a hectare, but its extent varies considerably depending on the habitat. The deep, cup-shaped nest is usually made close to or on the ground. It may be placed against a tree trunk, or on a broken stump in drift wood, and is often screened by overhanging vegetation.

One of the pair will dowse its belly feathers and use the moisture to soften nesting material for easy shaping of the nest, while the other will bring the material to the nest. The female builds the cup-shaped nest of coarse vegetation, lined with animal hair, rootlets and other fine material. It is completed in 6 to 14 days.

Two to three eggs are laid at one day intervals, and are incubated by the female for 14 to 19 days. The eggs may be off-white, pinkish or pale blue, but always flecked with rusty brown, especially near the thicker end.

Both parents will feed the nestlings during the subsequent 14 to 18 days, and for 5 to 7 weeks after they leave nest.

The Cape Robin-chat is a host of the Red-chested Ccuckoo and predators often raid the nests, and replacement nests are common.

Natural distribution:
It occurs from South Sudan (mainly Imatong Mts, above 1,600 m) southwards to Uganda, the DRC (1,800 m – 3,475 m), Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia (above 1,800 m), Malawi (where common above 1,500 m), Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. It is absent from arid Karoo and Kalahari.

It is a mainly resident breeder in eastern and southern Africa, though some adults and juveniles may migrate more than a 100 km to lower, warmer regions in winter. Some are however year-round residents even at high altitudes. A five-year tenure of a breeding territory by the same pair is commonplace,

In southern Africa it is a common species at Afromontane forest edges, in forest scrub and ravines, fynbos, karoo, plantations, gardens and parks. Most areas with dense cover with scattered trees or song posts are however suitable.

In dry areas they are restricted to thickets that fringe water courses.

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