White-backed Black-Tit Melaniparus leuconotus

Jason Anderson
Version: 2.0 — Published September 17, 2020


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13.5 cm; 16–17 g. White-backed Black-Tit is a fairly small black tit with a distinctive creamy white to mid-gray patch on mantle and lower nape. The whitish mantle and lower nape contrast sharply with the sooty black head, scapulars, and rump. The crown and underparts are black, and are glossy in good light, especially in males. The iris is brown, the bill is black, and the legs are mid to dark gray. Sexes are mostly similar, though females may be slightly duller, and may be more sooty brown.

Similar Species

There are two other black tits with which this species overlaps only at lower altitudes (below 2,750 m; 6): White-winged Black-Tit (Melaniparus leucomelas; in north and east of range) and White-shouldered Black-Tit (M. guineensis; in south-west of range only, below 10º N, 7). Both are also mainly black, but both have a white wing bar stretching from the scapulars across the coverts to the primaries and no white on mantle; White-shouldered Black-Tit also has pale irides. The only other small black arboreal species in the range of White-backed Black-Tit are the Northern Black Flycatcher (Melaenornis edolioides), which is larger, all dull slate-black, and with a longer tail and more upright stance, and the White-fronted Black-Chat (Oenanthe albifrons), which is also larger, with white only on forehead in the male, and a dull gray throat and forehead in the female.



Juveniles are slightly duller and browner than adults, lacking gloss, initially showing yellow gape flange, and have a duller or buffy, possibly mottled, mantle patch. They may also show darker feather bases. During the first year, birds retain dull brown outer flight feathers, which contrast with darker tertials and coverts.


Males in fresh plumage (from November to June) have body, wings, and tail that are sooty black, except for the obvious light gray mantle and lower nape patch that stretches around to the sides of neck, contrasting sharply with its black head. The crown appears glossed deep blue in good light, with the rest of upperparts faintly glossed. On the head, the lores, supercilium, cheeks, and ear-coverts are all sooty black. The rump and scapulars are black, and the wings are black , showing faintly glossed secondaries and coverts, with matte black to brown-black primaries. Some individuals show white tips on tertials and white fringes on secondaries . Tail feathers are black, glossed bluish-black on fringes, and have fine narrow whitish tips on outermost three pairs (T4-6, not always visible in field). Some individuals show white tips on undertail coverts .

In worn plumage (approximately from June to October), birds are duller or browner with less blue gloss, and the mantle patch may appear darker gray and occasionally smaller (‘V’ shaped or restricted to sides of mantle). Flight feathers are often bleached brown when the plumage is worn.

Females are very similar to males, and are often inseparable in field, although they average slightly duller (less gloss) or more sooty brown, particularly on underparts, and sometimes have a buff tinge to the light gray mantle.


Poorly known. Harrap and Quinn (6) note a complete molt post-breeding (October to June, although breeding may happen year round), and a partial post-juvenile molt, as is common in Paridae, including tertials, tail feathers, and some of inner greater coverts, retaining primaries, secondaries, and primary coverts. Friedmann (8) notes one male bird collected in Addis Ababa (8 January) and several (mainly male but also one juvenile) on the Arussi Plateau (20-29 February) were in molt when collected, adding: "the ecdysis being particularly noticeable in the retrices" (p. 89). No females were collected at the time.

Bare Parts


Black and glossy.

Iris and Facial Skin

Iris is brown (often appearing black in field).

Tarsi and Toes

Tarsi are mid to dark gray. Claws black.


Linear Measurements

Total length 13.5 cm (9, 6).

Reporting measurement ranges from Fry et al. (10 males and 7 females measured; 9) and Harrap and Quinn (number measured not given; 6). Friedmann (8) reports measurements of 8 male specimens (no females collected) during January and February, when most were in molt.

Wing Length

Male: 73-81 mm, female: 72-81 mm. From Friedmann (8), 74-82 mm.

Tail Length

Male: 54-62 mm, female: 53-61 mm. From Friedmann (8), 58-62.5 mm.

Bill Length

10.5-13.6 mm. From Friedmann (8), 11.0-13.0 mm.

Tarsus Length

17-21 mm. From Friedmann (8), 19.0-20.0 mm.


16.6 g, 16.8 g (n = 2; 6).

Recommended Citation

Anderson, J. (2020). White-backed Black-Tit (Melaniparus leuconotus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whbblt1.02