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A photo of a Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus), male
Cape Rockjumper, Male

Cape Rockjumper

Chaetops frenatus

The Cape rockjumper, also known as the rufous rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus), is a medium-sized, insectivorous passerine bird that is endemic to the mountain Fynbos of southernmost South Africa. This striking bird is characterized by its robust legs, long black tail, and distinctive coloration.

Identification Tips

Males exhibit a dark grey and black head with a thin white supercilium and a broad white moustache, also known as a malar stripe. Their back and wings are dark grey, while the underparts and rump are a vibrant rufous red. Females and juveniles are more subdued in color, with a paler grey head, upperparts, and wings, a less distinct head pattern, an orange rump, and buff underparts. Adults have bright red eyes, contrasting with the black eyes of juveniles, which change as they mature.


The Cape rockjumper is a specialist of mountain Fynbos habitat, preferring steep slopes adorned with large boulders and dominated by low scrubby restio vegetation. This provides them with ample perching opportunities to survey for predators.


This species is confined to a specialized habitat of 90,000 hectares stretching from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Notably, there is an established population at sea level at Rooi-Els, which still consists of mountain Fynbos habitat.


Cape rockjumpers are predominantly terrestrial, spending their lives running and jumping among rocks and grasses. They are adept at foraging on rocky slopes and scree, and while capable of flight, they tend to make long gliding descents rather than sustained flying.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the Cape rockjumper ranges from 1-4 piercing whistles to a series of trills, which can be heard echoing across their mountainous home.


Breeding territories near Cape Town range from 4 to 11 hectares and typically consist of a pair and one or two additional individuals, often their offspring from the previous season. These helpers assist in territorial defense, alarm calling, and feeding the nestlings and fledglings. Both sexes contribute to nest building and incubation. Nests are constructed on the ground under rocky overhangs, lined with fur or fluffy protea seed pods, and strategically placed to shield against harsh weather.

Similar Species

The Drakensberg rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) is closely related but does not share its range with the Cape rockjumper. The male Drakensberg rockjumper has orange underparts, distinguishing it from the rufous underparts of the Cape rockjumper.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Cape rockjumper is primarily composed of insects, including caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, and flies. They also consume small vertebrates such as lizards, geckos, amphibians, scorpions, annelid worms, and spiders.

Conservation status

The Cape rockjumper is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Their numbers are declining, particularly in the warmer parts of their range, due to their low heat tolerance and the challenges they face in foraging and breeding under increased temperatures.

Cape Rockjumper Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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More Rockjumpers

A photo of a Drakensberg Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) , male

Drakensberg Rockjumper

Chaetops aurantius
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