Previously, I have highlighted birds that are daily visitors to our garden. By contrast the Bush Blackcap and the Swee Waxbill appear to be infrequent or very discreet visitors.

I have only seen a Bush Blackcap in our garden twice, although it is possible that individuals are around and about, at least seasonally, but that they just keep a low profile. When the one in the photographs visited, it took its time splashing about in the bird bath, and was fairly confident and not skittish as might be expected.

The Bush Blackcap (Sylvia nigricapillus,  previously Lioptilus nigricapillus) is monotypic, meaning that it is the only species in its genus. It is found only in southern Africa, occurring only in in the eastern regions where there is suitable montane and mistbelt forest. Its preferred habitat is mature forest patches, especially in ravines with bushy margins. It feeds on small berries, fruits and invertebrates. Monogamous pairs breed during the summer months.

Bush Blackcap in bird bath

This Bush Blackcap is covered with water droplets as it baths in the bird bath. The Bush Blackcap is a partial altitudinal migrant within its range. It may remain resident or move to lower altitudes during the winter months 

Because of its limited range this species has a relatively small total population. Unfortunately its population is decreasing, largely because of afforestation by commercial plantations, which is destroying or fragmenting its habitat. Consequently, it is currently listed as Near Threatened, and with ongoing loss of habitat there are serious concerns that the population could decline to such an extent that the status could be altered to a higher threat category. In 2000, its population in South Africa was estimated to be 1000-3300 mature individuals.

A much commoner bird with a wider range is the Swee Waxbill (Coccopygia melanotis). Although it is also a southern African species, its range is geographically larger than that of the Bush Blackcap, extending as far north as isolated patches of south central Zimbabwe, and in South Africa its range extends through the eastern and southern regions.


The colourful Swee Waxbill is usually found in pairs or in small groups. I have only seen pairs visiting our garden. The male is on the left in this photo. I do not often see Swee Waxbills in the garden, and that could be because they remain close to dense cover, although apparently they do feed out in the open. They feed mostly on seed, especially grass seeds, and small insects

Swee Waxbills occur around forest and plantation edges, in a variety of bushy and woodland habitats, and also around farmyards and gardens. Their population appears to be stable, but, sadly, they are captured illegally for the caged-bird trade, which may have an impact on some local populations. In my view, these colourful little birds are best left to live their lives in freedom, rather than being captured or bred to be kept confined in cages.


The name, Swee, derives from the Swee Waxbills’ soft whistling call. In this photo, because of the late afternoon low light, I was not able to get a crisp image of this pair moving around as they had a quick drink at the bird bath, but although I would have preferred to have had better control over the focus, I quite like the muted and almost watercolour effect resulting from the lack of definition

The fact that I see these two species of birds only occasionally is perhaps more a reflection on my lack of observation than that they are absent. Seen or unseen, it is good to know that there is suitable vegetation in the area to feed and shelter them. I  hope that there are many other creatures that find secret sanctuary in our garden and neighbourhood.

Sources: BirdLife International. 2017. Species factsheets: Sylvia nigricapillus and Coccopygia melanotis.; IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. “Sylvia nigricapillus”.; Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition. 1997-2016. Southern African Birding.

Posted by Carol