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A photo of a Black-backed Puffback (Dryoscopus cubla), male
Black-backed Puffback, Male

Black-backed Puffback

Dryoscopus cubla

The black-backed puffback, Dryoscopus cubla, is a passerine bird of the Malaconotidae family, notable for its striking sexual dimorphism and the male's unique display behavior. Measuring approximately 17 cm in length, the adult male boasts deep blue-black upperparts with a lustrous sheen, a black cap above the red eye, and pure white underparts. The female, while similar in size, can be distinguished by a black loral stripe, white supraloral feathering, and paler ear coverts. Her crown is not solidly black, and her back is tinged with grey, blending into buffy tones on the white plumage tracts. Immature birds resemble females but have brownish bills and irides, with even greyer upperparts and buffier underparts and wing feather edges.

Identification Tips

To identify the black-backed puffback, look for the male's distinctive black and white plumage and the female's greyer back and lack of a solid black crown. The species exhibits clinal variation, with differences in range, iris color, wing markings, and female plumage aiding in distinguishing it from other puffback species.


This species inhabits a variety of wooded environments, including gardens, riparian thickets, mangroves, woodlands, savannas, and the fringes of afromontane forests. They are adaptable to altitudes from sea level up to 2,200 meters.


The black-backed puffback is found predominantly south of the equator in sub-Saharan Africa, extending from southern Somalia to coastal South Africa. It is the sole puffback species across much of its range.


Typically encountered in pairs or family groups, these birds are active in the higher strata of trees and may join mixed-species flocks. Males perform a conspicuous display by puffing out their white lower back feathers and calling while in flight. They are considered sedentary, with retraps indicating limited movement within a 10 km radius.

Song & Calls

The black-backed puffback's vocal repertoire includes a variety of whistling, clicking, and rasping sounds. Males may produce a "chow-chow-chow" or "tik-weeu, tik-weeu" call during display flights, while females may respond with a "ssssshh ssssshh" sound.


Monogamous and single-brooded, the black-backed puffback sees the female construct a neat, cobweb-bound nest in about 11 days, with the male accompanying her with calls and displays. The female incubates the speckled clutch of two to three eggs for 13 to 14 days, and both parents rear the chicks, which fledge after approximately 18 days.

Similar Species

While similar species are not present in its southern African range, the black-backed puffback can be differentiated from other puffbacks by its size, plumage, and display behavior.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of caterpillars, beetles, ants, termites, and occasionally small fruit. They forage actively in the tree canopies.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the black-backed puffback as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its conservation status. However, habitat destruction in certain regions poses a localized risk.

Black-backed Puffback Sounds

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