If you think the United States has a LBJ (“Little Brown Job”) problem, then you need to visit South Africa. There are literally close to one hundred species that are perfect candidates for being classified as LBJ’s. Throwing all these tiny brown birds in the face (or bino’s) of a visiting birder, like me, was completely overwhelming.
Certainly the most confusing bunch is the birds known as ‘Cisticola’s’. Cisticola’s are small, brown, sparrow-like birds that can be found in a variety of habitats from grassland to forests to coastal areas to arid regions to mountains, but unfortunately for birders trying to sort them out to species; most are found in the same habitat: wetlands. These 20 species are virtually identical. Their call and slight differences in the black streaking on their backs separate them. In some instances it is truly impossible to actually tell the difference. Below are a few of these LBJ’s that I was able to find and positively identify.
It really doesn’t get much more LBJ than this bird; small, brown, and totally boring. The most common of the Cisticola’s and perhaps the easiest to ID is the Neddicky (pictured below) due to its short tail and unmarked back. This species is found in a variety of habitats.
Another common species, the Lazy Cisticola, is another easy one to ID because it also has the unmarked back, but has a much longer tail than the Neddicky.
With this species, things start to get tricky. This species exhibits characteristics that most of their kind shows: a small brown bird with a streaked back, mostly hidden behind brush. There are 10 other species that look almost exactly the same as this species. Luckily, I was able to narrow this one down to species by its call, its location in South Africa, and its reddish tail and the fact that its black feathers are tipped with brown (not grey).