White-backed Black-Tit Melaniparus leuconotus

Jason Anderson
Version: 2.0 — Published September 17, 2020


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Systematics History

Originally described by Guérin-Méneville in 1843 (5) as Parus leuconotus based on specimens of a number of new species collected “in Abyssinia by two Frenchmen belonging to the general staff of the army” (p. 161). It was retained in a larger Parus genus as Parus leuconotus for a long period (10). Hall and Moreau (11) placed P. leuconotus within the niger superspecies, although later authors Sibley and Monroe (12) and Fry et al. (9) did not follow this classification. Following Johansson et al. (2), who proposed the genus Melaniparus based on molecular analyses, most authorities now place this and other African Paridae within the monophyletic clade Melaniparus (13, 14, 15).

Geographic Variation

None known.



Related Species

White-backed Black-Tit (M. leuconotus) is distinct in both range and appearance from its two sister species, Gray Tit (M. afer) and Ashy Tit (M. cinerascens; 2), which both live in southern Africa, and are predominantly gray in color with strong black markings on head, throat, and breast. Both are primarily resident, but locally nomadic. Johansson et al.'s phylogeny (2) placed White-backed Black-Tit alongside this more closely related pair of Gray Tit and Ashy Tit within the African gray tit superspecies. Together, these three species appeared to be most closely related to Somali Tit (M. thruppi) and Red-throated Tit (M. fringillinus) within the genus Melaniparus. In the broader Paridae, Melaniparus appears to be part of a wholly Old World radiation, where it is sister to Machlolophus and Parus (2).


Etymology of scientific name is as follows: Melaniparus meaning "black" or "dark" (Greek melan-, stem of mélās) + parus (generic name); leuconotus meaning "white-backed" (Greek leukós meaning "clear" or "white" + New Latin, from Greek nōtos, meaning "back") (Merriam-Webster).

According to Harrap and Quinn (6), the English family name "tit" is an abbreviation of "titmouse" which originates in Middle English (14th century). "Tit" means "small animal or object" (p. 18) and mouse is a corruption of the older form "mose", meaning "bird".

Shelley, in his Birds of Africa called it the Buff-mantled Black Tit (16, p. 226). In 1937, Friedmann called the species the White-backed Black Titmouse (8, p. 88), and White-backed Black Tit, which is a direct translation of the scientific name, was used by Guichard in 1948 (17, p. 175), after which references in English generally use this name. Ebird, following Clements, hyphenates "Black-Tit", although most other authorities do not (e.g., 9, 7, 18), and Harrap and Quinn called it simply the White-backed Tit (6).

Currently submitted names for the species on GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) are as follows:

  • Carbonero Dorsiblanco in Spanish
  • Cincia dorsobianco in Italian
  • Etiopisk Mejse in Danish
  • Hvitryggmeis in Norwegian
  • Mésange à dos blanc in French
  • Weißrückenmeise in German
  • White-backed Black Tit in English
  • Witrugmees in Dutch
  • Baltanugarė zylė in Lithuanian
  • Etiopiantiainen in Finnish
  • Fehérhátú cinege in Hungarian
  • Mallerenga negra de dors blanc in Catalan–Valencian
  • Sikora jasnogrzbieta in Polish
  • Sýkora etiopská in Czech
  • Sýkorka bielochrbtá in Slovak
  • Valgeselg-nõgitihane in Estonian
  • Vitryggig mes in Swedish
  • Белоспинная синица in Russian
  • セジロクロガラ in Japanese
  • 白背山雀 in Chinese

Ebird adds to this:

  • Crna senica belih leđa in Serbian

Fossil History

No fossils known.

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