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Zitting Warbler { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 9, 2015


This is another article in the series about the birds of Europe. Here we review the Zitting Warbler, Cisticola juncidis cursitans, which belongs to the Order of birds known as the Passeriformes {perching birds} and the the family Cistiolidae. As far as conservation issues they are a bird of least concern according to the IUCN. {International Union on the Conservation of Nature}.

The Zitting warbler was commonly referred to as the Fan-tailed Warbler but was renamed to alleviate confusion with an American species of the same name.

We review the history of this cheery little bird through the eyes of past ornithologists and their perception of the species during their times. The genus Cisticola in many respects resembles those of the true aquatic warblers, however, the species belonging to it, differ much as regards habit, form and mode of nesting so that generic separation is justified. The best place to start our review is by a description of the species.

Zitting warbler

Zitting warbler in breeding plumage
Zitting warbler in breeding plumage | Source

Description of Cisticola juncidis cursitan

Adult male and female-- the crown , back and wing coverts, and upper parts are generally black, broadly striped with a warm buff, the ground colour of the feathers being black and the margins a warm buff.

The underparts are white , the breast washed with buff and the flanks and under tail feathers a dull rufous colour. The bill is coloured horn brown, yellowish at the base. The iris's are brown, the legs a brownish flesh colour. The bill is rather stout and tends to be broad at the base, it is moderately long, decurved towards the tip, the nostrils are basal, oval. The gape is furnished with a few short bristles, the wings are moderately long.The total length is about four and a quarter inches.

However, it must be noted that examples of this species from different localities, and indeed, sometimes in the same locality, differ a little some being much paler and greyer, and others more rufous and darker. Some have the head darker and less striped than others. This variation in plumage led some authorities to divide them into sub-species, but others realized they were just variations of the same species.

It was once thought possible that the sexes could be told apart during the breeding season simply by the colour of their gape. The old male was said to have a purple coloured gape while the female had a yellowish, flesh coloured gape.

It was considered to be common in southern Europe Africa and Asia as far east as China. It is a restless and active species, frequenting grassy or bushy places, usually near water.

Illustration of the Zitting warbler

The Illustration is taken from the book The History of the Birds of Europe 1871-81. H E. Dresser.  The bird is illustrated under its former name of the Fan-tailed warbler, along with its former scientific name. Courtesy of the BHL
The Illustration is taken from the book The History of the Birds of Europe 1871-81. H E. Dresser. The bird is illustrated under its former name of the Fan-tailed warbler, along with its former scientific name. Courtesy of the BHL

Lifestyle of the Zitting warbler

Its diet consists in the main of insects of various kinds, which it obtains both on the ground and from bushes and grass. According to Brehm " The indigestable parts of their food, which I found to minute beetles, Diptera, caterpillars and small snails, are cast up in the form of small pellets"

Although its flight is considered to be feeble and only carried out in short duration, although in short bursts the flight can be quite rapid. The bird is well adapted to climbing the stems of reeds, grasses and shrubs with ease.not infrequently several pairs inhabit a small place which they rarely desert unless they are disturbed. They can not be considered to be a shy bird in the true sense of the meaning of the word however, they do like to remain concealed in tangled places close to the ground, and, it is not unusual for them to be upon the ground where they run with considerable stealth among the grasses.

Only the male bird sings and when he does it usually chooses to perch on an exposed twig or tall grass or reed stem, away from the other birds. The call note is of a grating nature, however, it is considered to be a 'fair' songster.

Dresser in his book ' A History of the Birds of Europe ' {1871-81} stated that in France it was confined to the southern districts and was numerous in the marshy regions and in similar localities along the Mediterranean. Adrien Lacroix records it from the French Pyrenees where, he says, it arrives in April and departs in September. It was also stated to be common in Portugal.

Mr. Saunders conveys to us that it was very common in southern and eastern Spain, as far north as the Ebro, but did not record it from Catalonia. Saunders also remarked that it was known by several common names in Spanish for example 'Bolsicon' on account of its purse like nest. Tin tin from its sharp note, and, 'chispita' indicating a ' little spark ' from the birds burst of rapid flight.

In Greece Dr.Kruper stated that it was found throughout all the swampy districts and is to be met with at all seasons of the year. Canon Tristram 1867-stated " It rejoices in the moist maritime plains of Palestine, where we found it all the year, starting up in front of our horses, jerking up in the air for a few seconds as it rapidly repeated a single note, and then dropping again, when it was difficult to put up again a second time." In 1869, Captain Shelley spoke of it being one of the most abundant birds in Egypt and Nubia"

Von Heuglon speaking of its habits writes that this is usually found in pairs in the clover and wheat fields, in Amundo hedges, on pastures in Date bushes, especially when the latter is overgrown with creepers, and the ground is covered by dense grass. It is also found in gardens, alongside Ditches and from cultivation to the very edge of the desert.

Cisticola juncidis

CC-BY-2.5 license { Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license.}
CC-BY-2.5 license { Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license.} | Source

Zitting warbler -breeding nest and eggs

During the breeding season the male will often fly around the location of the nest and ascend into the air, in the manner of a whitethroat, describing circles and flying low, with a jerky fluttering flight, and continually utter its call note { a harch 'teck,teck'}.

Nesting begins in north Africa in March, and in southern Europe a little later. Two or three broods may be raised in some countries. Nests inspected in Spain are purse shaped, neatly made of thistledown and plant cotton, interwoven with bits of grass and closely worked into the grass stems amid which they are situated.

The eggs, like the birds themselves run into several varieties two of which seem to be equally common in Europe. They are pale blue, spotted with rufous and pure white also spotted with rufous, there are even some records of eggs being encountered that are pale blue and entirely unspotted.

Three to six eggs are laid and are incubated by the female which is undertaken for about ten days.

The species according to the ICUN is of least concern as far as conservation issues and the long term trend seems to indicate an increase in population numbers.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Brenda, thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment. Good to see you!

    • Joy56 profile image


      5 years ago

      wonderful hub, sorry it does not fly near you. Would have loved to see a photo. The pictures you have here are lovely though. Thanks for your insight into this lovely bird.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice, Hi Deb, thank you for your visit and for leaving your comment. This species does not occur in the UK. Best wishes to you.

      DDE, Hi,

      Glad to have been of help and enjoy the bird in beautiful Croatia. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A lovely bird and so much to know about it, small and fascinating most interesting and informative, and useful we do have this kind of bird in my region

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What a gorgeous little bird! So this bird doesn't come to your area, correct?


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