Golden Headed Cisticola and Chats

To: "Peter Woodall" <>, <>
Subject: Golden Headed Cisticola and Chats
From: "Tim Murphy" <>
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2003 21:23:02 +0800
I am just back from a very enjoyable tour of east South Africa with Pelican Safaris, and our leader, Mark Caulton, told us that the most dangerous things in Africa have black mouths - the Black Mamba and the Cisticolas. While I didn't see any snakes I saw many singing Cisticolas and the black mouth was quite noticeable - Mark didn't mention if this is a universal field mark of all Cisticolas,. 
However I don't think that this is a field mark of the Golden-headed Cisticola. While Zitting Cisticolas occur in Africa (and in Asia) I can't say that I have ever noticed their mouth. Can anyone comment.
Tim Murphy
-----Original Message-----
From: [On Behalf Of Peter Woodall
Sent: Friday, 3 October 2003 12:04 PM
Subject: Re: [BIRDING-AUS] Golden Headed Cisticola and Chats

Dear Peter

I've been lucky enough to see a number of species of Cisticola in Africa
and elsewhere. At home I have a monograph on the Cisticolas written
by Admiral Lynes and published in the IBIS in the 1930's, with some
wonderful colour plates as a supplement.  I believe that he sorted out many
species that had been previously confused because of differences in breeding
and non-breeding plumage, etc.
.... but I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert on the group.

I really don't see them as being anything like chats, either the "Australian" chats
(now placed with the honeyeaters in the family Meliphagidae) or the Old World chats
(family Turdidae with the thrushes, etc).

To me they are clearly a group of warblers which have originated in Africa and have radiated there:
into large species in the swamps;  tiny ones as "cloud-scrapers"; and many in between.
Only a few species are found out of Africa, but there are over 70 species in Africa.
They all have a mottled brown/buff plumage and are traditionally in one genus Cisticola
in the warbler family Sylviidae (which was previously placed with the flycatchers (Muscicapidae)).

Whether you leave them as a distinctive genus in the warbler family, or make them a sub-family, or indeed
a family of their own seems largely a subjective matter.  I don't think there are any definite rules in this
higher order classification.  It depends on whether you want to emphasize differences (a splitter) or
similarities (a lumper).

I don't think that I have ever seen one actually on the ground so I can't say whether they hop or run.  I have seen
their tongues and as far as I remember they are simple - not brush-tipped as in the honeyeaters and Australian chats.
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