Black-backed Puffback

Dryoscopus cubla

A common member of the shrike family occurring in woodland, thickets and forests (as well as well-planted parks and gardens), the Black-backed Puffback feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates and occasionally small berries.

Black-backed Puffbacks are usually seen singly or in monogamous pairs, often foraging along with other insectivorous birds, usually quite high in the tree tops. They breed throughout the year with a definite peak in the spring and early summer, building cup-shaped nests using soft plant material and spiderwebs in the fork of a branch. The male has an impressive display, fanning pure white plumes on its back in the shape of a powder puff (see image below) to impress his female before mating. The pair is quite brave in the defense of their nest, eggs and chicks, even attacking venomous snakes venturing too close. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2 or 3 eggs over a 2 week period, with the hatchlings leaving the nest about 3 weeks after emerging from the eggs.

Adults measure about 17cm and tip the scales at around 26g.

Black-backed Puffbacks are considered to be of least concern and occurs widely south of the equator in east, central and southern Africa. In our country they’re found from the Garden Route through the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng into Limpopo and the Northwest Province.

17 thoughts on “Black-backed Puffback

  1. naturebackin

    Well done for getting these pics of such a difficult to photograph bird. We have a pair that visit our garden but they are constantly moving around gleaning food in the tree branches and foliage and they are quite shy. The only place I have seen them puffed up was at Mkuzi Game Reserve and that was fascinating to see.

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  2. Anne

    You are right about the Black-backed Puffbacks favouring the treetops: I watched one work its way through the Ironwood in our garden a few days ago – there was no way I was going to capture him on film! I am most impressed with the photographs you have!

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  3. H.J. for avian101

    They are very similar to the shrikes that we have in America but they might have different hunting habits. Thank you, D. for the lessons on this new bird for me. šŸ™‚

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  4. BETH

    Yes, he is cute, but is he as murderous as his shrike relative? As a little girl, I dreaded when the shrikes took over our trees. They killed without provication. Then they hung their lifeless victims on the fence posts around the yard.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Insects form the largest part of the Puffback’s diet, Beth, but it would probably not pass the opportunity to snack on a lizard or small chick either. I’ve not heard of them hanging their cache on thorns or fences as the shrikes, or butcherbirds, do though.

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