Bush Blackcap Sylvia nigricapillus


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small population, which is threatened by afforestation of its habitat and is inferred to be in decline. Therefore, it has been uplisted to Vulnerable.

Population justification
The South African population has been estimated at 1,500-5,000 individuals and Swaziland is thought to hold a resident breeding population of 40 individuals. The range of 1,500-5,000 individuals roughly equates to 1,000-3,300 mature individuals; and it is unlikely that any sub-population contains >1,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification

In the 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Taylor et al. 2015) it is stated that it has experienced a decline in AOO and potentially population of 30% over the past 15 years based on Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) data. Other recent literature using SABAP data give range declines of 11% (Cooper 2015) or 6% (Lee et al. 2017), with even a possible core range increase of 11% (Lee et al. 2017). Given this uncertainty the population is inferred to be in decline, but the rate of decline is unknown. These declines are suspected to be a result of ongoing habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Distribution and population

Sylvia nigricapillus ranges from the north Eastern Cape, through New Griqualand, the Drakensberg and mistbelt forests of KwaZulu-Natal, the eastern Free State and Mpumalanga to the Northern Province in eastern South Africa, as well as western Swaziland. It has been described as generally uncommon to fairly common (del Hoyo et al. 2007).


This species prefers major stands of mature forest in ravines fringed with thickets of Leucosidea and Buddleia. This habitat is often surrounded by grassland, or cultivated land which may prove to be beneficial for the species (Cooper 2015). It usually occurs at 750-1,825 m, but is recorded down to 600 m during the winter months, and seen at the coast in May when it occupies coastal forests and valley bushveld, and occasionally ferns and shrubs in gardens (del Hoyo et al. 2007). It feeds on small berries, fruits and invertebrates. Breeding takes place between October and January. The nest, in which 2-3 eggs are laid, is a cup of grass, leaves, fine twigs, roots, forbs and tendrils, lined with rootlets, bark strips, fine twigs and animal hair, and placed 1-6 m above the ground in a fork in the subcanopy of a tree or bush. It is a resident, and a partial altitudinal migrant (del Hoyo et al. 2007).


Some of its scrub and forest habitat has already been lost to commercial afforestation. With the majority of its habitat expected to become severely afforested, this species may undergo serious declines in the future; although cultivation and and urbanisation can mitigate some of the effects of clearing for plantations (Cooper, 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
It occurs in Giant's Castle Game Reserve and Monk's Cowl Nature Reserve, in KwaZulu-Natal (del Hoyo et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to obtain an up-to-date population estimate. Monitor population trends through regular surveys. Monitor habitat loss throughout its range. Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.


Text account compilers
Khwaja, N., O'Brien, A., Pilgrim, J., Robertson, P., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Sylvia nigricapillus. Downloaded from on 02/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 02/12/2022.