African Tailorbird Artisornis metopias Scientific name definitions

Flemming P. Jensen and Peter F. D. Boesman
Version: 2.0 — Published December 23, 2022


Systematics History

Originally described as Prinia metopias by Reichenow in 1907, based on a specimen from “Usambara” (15). In 1928, Friedmann described a distinct genus Artisornis for the African Tailorbird (16), while others sometimes placed it in the South Asian tailorbird genus Orthotomus because of similarities in plumage and stitched-leaf nest architecture (17). However, Artisornis metopias has 10 rectrices while Orthotomus has 12, and molecular DNA data has more recently associated Artisornis metopias with African cisticolid warblers (Cisticolidae), confirming that it is distantly related to Orthotomus (18, 19, 20).

Geographic Variation

Geographical variation of size and plumages is slight, although phylogeographic analyses using DNA sequence data recovered four geographically structured clades: (1) the northern East and West Usambara Mountains; (2) the central Rubeho and Udzungwa Mountains; (3) the central but isolated Uluguru Mountains; and (4) the southern Matengo Highlands and Serra Jeci in Mozambique. Using genetic divergence to estimate divergence time, the four main clades appear to have all diverged from each other about 1 million years ago. In addition to these four main clades, the southernmost clade, occurring in the Matengo Highlands and Serra Jeci forests, shows addition population structure, with these two areas estimated to have diverged about 345 thousand years before the present (20). It should be noted that DNA from the populations in Nguru and Ukaguru Mountains, or Tanzania’s Southern Highlands and Mount Chitagal in Mozambique, was not included in the study. While it seems likely that the population on Mount Chitagal belongs to the fourth clade, since this mountain is situated between the Matengo Highlands and Serra Jeci, it remains unknown which clades the populations on Nguru, Ukaguru, and the Southern Highlands should be associated with.


Two subspecies recognized (21). Plumage and meristic character assessments are still inadequate, and despite the levels of genetic divergence among phylogeographic clades (see Geographic Variation), it is suggested that the taxonomic status of these highly disjunct populations is not formally revised before more morphological and vocal evidence is available (20). For this reason, only the nominate form and subspecies altus of the Uluguru Mountains are included here.


Artisornis metopias metopias Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Prinia metopias Reichenow, 1907, Ornithologiske Monatsberichte 15:29–31.—Usambara, Tanganyika [Tanzania] (15).


Montane forests in eastern Tanzania and northwestern Mozambique from Usambara Mountains south to Serra Jeci in Mozambique, but excluding Uluguru Mountains in eastern Tanzania.

Identification Summary

Underside lighter gray than in subspecies altus and with reddish not rich chestnut on head sides.


Artisornis metopias altus Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Opifex altus Friedmann, 1927, Proceedings of the New England Zoological Club 10:4.—Nyingwa, Uluguru Mountains, Tanganyika [Tanzania]; elevation 8,000 feet [2,438 m] (22).


Uluguru Mountains in eastern Tanzania.

Identification Summary

Upper breast and flanks darker gray and darker and richer chestnut on sides of throat and neck than nominate.

Related Species

Analyses of extensive mitochondrial and nuclear DNA datasets have resolved that African Tailorbird (Artisornis metopias) and Long-billed Tailorbird (Artisornis moreaui) are sister species that are estimated to have diverged from each other ca. 2.83 million years before the present (20). This study also suggested that the genus Artisornis is sister to Oreolais, which includes two species: Black-collared Apalis (Oreolais pulcher) and Rwenzori Apalis (Oreolais ruwenzorii) (20); a sister relationship between Artisornis and Oreolais was also recovered in a large phylogenetic study of Cisticolidae by Olsson et al. (19).


None recorded (23).


Also known as Red-capped Forest-Warbler.

Fossil History

Information needed.

Recommended Citation

Jensen, F. P. and P. F. D. Boesman (2022). African Tailorbird (Artisornis metopias), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.afrtai2.02