The grey-backed cisticola or red-headed cisticola (Cisticola subruficapilla) is a small, 13-14 cm long, vocal, dull-coloured bird with a dark rufous crown to its reddish head. It has a rufous panel in the folded wing. The grey bill is short and straight, and the feet and legs are pinkish-brown. The eye is light brown. The southern form, `grey-backed cisticola` proper, found in southern Namibia and South Africa has a grey back heavily streaked with black. Its underparts are greyish white. Although cisticolas can be very similar in plumage, this greyish subspecies is quite distinctive. The northern subspecies has a brown back heavily streaked with black and cold buff underparts. It is very similar to the wailing cisticola, Cisticola lais, of eastern South Africa, but that species has warmer buff underparts and does not overlap in range. The sexes are similar, but juvenile birds are duller with a yellow face.

Habitat and Distribution

This cisticola is a resident breeder in southernmost Angola, Namibia and western South Africa. The grey-backed cisticola is a very common bird of coastal fynbos, karoo shrub and grassy areas on estuarine flats.


It is usually seen in pairs or singly, flitting in a bush or the grass at the base of a tree as it forages for small insects.


The grey-backed cisticola builds a ball-shaped nest with a side entrance from dry grass, cobwebs and felted plant down.

Calls and Songs

The call of the grey-backed cisticola is a soft prrrrt followed by a sharp wheee phweee.