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the web of life in southern Africa

Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat) 

Gewone spekvreter [Afrikaans]; Isikretyane, Unongungu [Xhosa]; umBexe [Zulu]; Letlerenyane, Letleretsane [South Sotho]; Roodstaart-spekvreter [Dutch]; Traquet familier [French]; Rostschwanzschmätzer, Rostschwanz [German]; Chasco-familiar [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Muscicapidae > Genus: Cercomela

Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat)  Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat) 
Familiar chat, Cape Point, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Familiar chat, De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat)  Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat)

Familiar chat, fields near Durbanville, fields near Durbanville. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Familiar chat, Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches across the Sahel, with a separate population stretching from Tanzania through southern DRC, Zambia, Angola and Malawi to southern Africa. Here it is common across Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, south-eastern Botswana and north-western Mozambique, generally preferring boulder-strewn mountain slopes, rocky outcrops, valley hills, open woodland along drainage lines, woodland, farmyards and rural gardens.

Distribution of Familiar chat in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It mainly eats invertebrates, which it catches using a variety of foraging techniques, often pouncing on prey on the ground from a perch or hawking insects aerially. It also gleans food from leaves and branches while hovering or chasing small arthropods on the ground; it may even forage in the intertidal zone, perching on kelps or seaweed. It often associates with Klipspringers (Oreatragus oreatragus), catching the insects they flush or even plucking ectoparasites from their skin  The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • The nest is constructed in about 2-13 days, consisting of an open cup of dry grass, paper and string and lined with finer material, such as fluffy seeds, hair, feathers and wool. It is usually built on an untidy platform of earth clods, small stones and bits of bark, and it can be placed in a wide variety of sites. It most commonly uses cavities in walls, buildings or trees, old burrows of bee-eaters or other burrowing bird species, rock faces or an artificial structure such as a nest box, shelf, letter box or even a freezer, as seen in the photos below.
Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat)  Cercomela familiaris (Familiar chat) 

Familiar chat nest in a freezer, Rooiport Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

  • Egg-laying season is usually from June-April, peaking from August-December, although in arid regions it can breed at any time of year in response to rainfall.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated for about 13-15 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about 15-19 days.


Not threatened, in fact it has adapted quite well to habitat disturbance caused by humans.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.