Anthus leucophrys (Plain-backed pipit) 

Donkerkoester [Afrikaans]; Icelu, Icetshu (generic terms for pipit) [Xhosa]; umNgcelekeshu, umNgcelu (generic terms for pipit) [Zulu]; Tšase (generic term for pipits) [South Sotho]; Xihitagadzi [Tsonga]; Bruinrugpieper [Dutch]; Pipit à dos uni [French]; Braunrückenpieper [German]; Petinha-de-dorso-liso [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Motacillidae > Genus: Anthus

Anthus leucophrys (Plain-backed pipit) Anthus leucophrys (Plain-backed pipit)

Plain-backed pipit. [photo Neil Gray ©]

Plain-backed pipit juvenile, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches across sub-Saharan Africa, from southern Mauritania to Ethiopia south through southern DRC, Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. Here it is locally common in northern Namibia, southern and northern Botswana and South Africa (excluding most of the Northern Cape). It generally prefers moist short grassland with scattered trees, rocks and termite mounds, cultivated land and Karoo dwarf shrubland, however it may move into other habitats which have recently been burnt, as well as sandy beaches with lots of seaweed, flood plains and marshes.

Distribution of Plain-backed pipit in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


It mainly eats insects and their larvae, doing most of its foraging on the ground, plucking food from the soil and the bases of grass tufts. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • The nest is a deep cup of roots and coarse grass stems lined with fine grass, roots and occasionally feathers, hair or fur. It is typically placed in a hollow between or at the base of a grass tuft, which effectively conceals it from intruders.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-December, peaking from October-November.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated for up to 14 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents on a diet of insects, leaving the nest after about 16 days (based on one observation).


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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