BIG 5/GAME DRIVE EXPERIENCE
With 374 bird species recorded in the surrounding Nambiti Private Game Reserve, Cheetah Ridge Lodge is a twitchers’ delight and the ideal bird-friendly springboard from which to observe and record the social habits, mating rituals and calls of the sanctuary’s extraordinarily diverse birdlife.
From passerines (perching birds) to waders; from flightless birds to raptors; from browsing birds to diving birds; from aquatic birds to terrestrial birds, this is bird-spotting paradise.
From migratory and seasonal visitors to locally common residents; from scarce, elusive species to very common residents, the prolific birdlife is one of Nambiti’s best-kept secrets.
With two guided game drives venturing daily through Nambiti’s untouched wilderness in the early mornings and late afternoons, when birdlife activity is at its peak, our own Cheetah Ridge Rangers will share their expert insights with you from their deep and intimate knowledge of the Reserve’s birdlife.
Nambiti have documented a wide variety of bird species, these bird species have been categorised according to the following:
Commonly-seen residents, locally common residents, uncommon residents, scarce residents, uncommon residents (summer visitors), locally common summer visitors, common summer visitors, summer visitors, breeding summer visitors, non-breeding summer visitors, uncommon summer visitors, rare summer visitors, rare visitors.
Spot a herd of grazing animals in the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa and you’ll see red- and yellow-billed oxpeckers riding on their backs. The birds enjoy the blood they draw as much as the ticks they consume.
One of only two species of birds in the starling and myna family, the red-billed oxpecker has strong legs, powerful toes, sharp nails, and long, sharp claws which enables it to cling onto the sides and backs of its hosts at precarious angles.
As a passerine (perching) bird, its strong legs are well adapted to a life spent perched on mammals, but shortened to enable them to grip onto their moving hosts. They also have short, stiff tails which are used as props.
Although it’s a fairly plain bird, with olive-brown upperparts and creamy underparts and rump, the red-billed oxpecker is very easy to identify. The bill is red, and adults have distinctive yellow eye-rings around their bright red eyes.
Aside from their contrasting colours, the biggest distinction between the two oxpecker species lies in the shape and action of their beaks. The yellow billed oxpecker uses its stout beak to pluck parasites off its hosts. The red billed cousin uses its slimmer, flatter beak in a scissor-like motion to remove its meals. This same sharp beak is also used to peck at any sores or scabs on the host.
Behaviour and habits
The red-billed oxpecker perches on certain wild mammals and domesticated livestock and targets the ticks and other small parasites found on their skin and in their coats. The red-bill devotes its day to plucking insects and ticks from its hosts and – except in breeding season – may also spend the night there.
Its pointed bills are especially adapted to its lifestyle; they’re laterally compressed, which helps it to work its way through its hosts’ coats in a comb-like fashion and pry out well embedded parasites.
The birds also act as watchmen, their rattling alarm calls and loud warning hiss giving their hosts advance warning of approaching predators. This too is a very good bushveld guide for both rangers and trackers.
Outside the breeding season it forms large, chattering flocks, its flight strong and direct.
Red-bills feast off whatever they can find to eat in the pelts of host animals, especially antelope like impala or kudu and grazing mammals like plains zebra, giraffe, rhino (both black and white species) and African buffalo. In farming areas, the hosts can also include domestic stock such as cattle, goats, donkeys, and horses. Elephants and a handful of small antelope species will not tolerate the birds at all.
By helping to rid grazers of parasites and keeping the bugs at bay, the oxpecker has a mutually beneficial relationship with plain-roaming mammals. Often, the grateful host will be seen bending down to drink from a waterhole as the red-billed oxpeckers perched on its back set to work grooming its fur, ridding it of unwanted ticks and flies, and also removing dandruff and earwax.
Although they sometimes hawks termite aerially and glean prey from vegetation, they feed almost exclusively on what they can pluck from the skin of wild or domesticated mammals – dead skin, mucus, saliva, blood, sweat, and tears. The bulk of their diet consists of ticks, but also includes other parasites such as blood-sucking flies, fleas and lice.
An adult oxpecker can devour up to 100 blood-engorged female ticks, or more than 12 000 tick larvae a day. However, their preferred food is blood, and while they may take ticks bloated with blood, they also feed on it directly, pecking at the mammal’s wounds to keep them open. Ticks are costly parasites because they drain blood, inflict bites, and transmit many diseases.
They also help trim and clean open wounds on their hosts’ hides and are quite efficient at cleaning these lesions – what they’re after is the rotting wound tissue around the open sore.
But, as much as they prevent wound infestation by fly larvae, they also open wounds to infection, which delays healing and attracts more parasites to the area – opening up a debate on whether the oxpecker is more of a hindrance than a help, and if it’s not in itself a type of parasite.
Yet what is certainly true is that, by removing parasites, earwax and grease from the host’s body, the oxpecker minimises the animal’s grooming time and effort to a very large extent.
The red-billed oxpecker usually nests in a natural tree cavity or a hole in a rock or stone wall, lining the interior with hair plucked from its mammal hosts, dung, grass and rootlets. It’s sometimes kicked out of its nest by Burchell’s starlings or striped kingfishers.
The birds breed in the summer, with courtship and copulation taking place on the back of a host animal.
Egg-laying season runs from October-March. It lays 2-5 eggs (on average, three), which are incubated by both sexes for about 12-13 days in deep nests built in natural tree holes. As cooperative breeders, the breeding pair may have up to three broods each season but are usually assisted by up to seven helpers.
After hatching, the chicks are fed by all members of the group, leaving the nest after about 30 days and becoming fully independent about two months later.
Oxpeckers are monogamous breeders unless a mate dies, at which time the bird will take another mate.
Its call is a hissy crackling trik-quisss.
One of the world’s 114 starling species, the violet-backed starling, also known as the plum-coloured or amethyst starling, is the smallest of the Southern African starlings, reaching only about 18cm in length.
Known in Afrikaans as the witborsspreeu, it’s a highly sexually dimorphic species, meaning the males and females are easily told apart / distinguished from each other. The male possesses a striking metallic violet head and back, with a bright white chest and stomach, whilst the female, in comparison, is rather drab, with mainly brown plumage with a white speckled stomach heavily streaked with dark brown.
The breeding male is vividly coloured, with feathers a deep iridescent plum along the length of its back, wings, face and throat, set off by a contrasting white breast with black splotches, and black-coloured bill and legs. Females (and juveniles) are a streaky brown and buff colour, and can easily be mistaken for a thrush.
Found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, these exquisite birds are intra-African migrants, typically inhabiting mountain cliffs, light and densely wooded forests, savannah woodlands, grasslands and bushlands near fruit trees.
They are equally at home in riverine forests and close to water bodies such as lakes, dams and streams. It’s rarely seen on the ground, but instead more commonly found in trees.
They are eagerly awaited, common summer visitors. The species moves north in winter, leaving birders yearning for its vivid flashes of violet colour to reappear. It’s a successful breeder, and for this reason, not listed as a threatened species, despite facing habitat destruction.
Behavioural habits and courtship
Violet-backed starlings are normally seen in small flocks in summer, until mating season, when they will break off into pairs to nest.
Less noisy than other starlings, this bird is a monogamous species, and are believed to mate for life, unless its mate dies, in which case, it will seek a new mate in replacement.
Violet-backed starlings prefer to nest in cavities such as tree holes high off the ground, river bank holes, and even in hollow fence posts, lining the nests with dung, leaves and other plant material. Built high up in the tree canopy, the nest is protected from predators by branches and dense green foliage. They have been known to reuse nests in successive breeding seasons.
Feeding and diet
Like all starlings, violet-backed starlings are omnivorous (herbivore/Insectivore), eating both fruit such as mulberries and figs, and insects such as butterflies, bees, wasps, locusts and ants. These invertebrates are usually hawked aerially, killed and then eaten. They are adept at catching prey both on the wing or by gleaning them off tree branches. When termites swarm, they can be found in abundance, gorging themselves on these insects, before taking their prey back to a secluded venue where it’s torn into small pieces and consumed.
The call is a single high-pitched whistle, shrilly vocalised by the male.
Also known as the green sugarbird, the malachite sunbird has a long, thin down-curved bill with a brush-tipped tongue specially adapted for nectar feeding.
The male malachite sunbird, which has very long central tail feathers, is 25 cm long. The shorter-tailed 15cm female has brown upperparts and dull yellow underparts with some indistinct streaking on the breast. Her tail is square-ended. The juvenile resembles the female.
In breeding season, the male malachite sunbird is metallic green with blackish-green wings interspersed with small yellow pectoral patches. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the male’s upperparts are brown apart from its green wings and tail, the latter retaining the elongated feathers. The underparts in eclipse plumage are yellow, flecked with green.
Distribution and habitat
Found from the highlands of Ethiopia southwards to South Africa, the malachite sunbird is endemic to South Africa, where it occurs along the west coast bordering on Namibia, extending east through the Eastern Cape and Lesotho to KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It also occupies Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, bordering on Mozambique, but is discontinuous across East Africa.
It occurs in a variety of habitats, ranging from alpine and montane grasslands to scrubby hillsides in mountainous areas, as well as in riverine thornbush and in the arid steppes of Namaqualand.
Locally, it thrives in hilly-fynbos such as protea and aloe stands and cool montane and coastal scrub, up to 2 800m altitude in South Africa, where it’s resident, but may head downhill in winter. The vegetation of the Swartberg Pass in the Klein Karoo is a lush playground for these striking birds.
It also occurs in alien plantations and parks and gardens (often nesting within those located on the Highveld).
Behaviour and habits
Territorial and aggressive when nesting, sunbirds are highly gregarious when not breeding, forming flocks of over 1 000 birds. The male malachite sunbird has an elaborate display flight with a twittering song, often accompanied by pointing its head upward and displaying his yellow pectoral tufts with his wings half open. Male birds display their pectoral tufts almost continuously throughout the night, whilst asleep, which ornithologists believe function as eyespots to deter nocturnal predators.
A nectivorous bird that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants), the malachite sunbird usually forages singly or in pairs, but it may aggregate in groups of over 100 at localised food sources (e.g. large clumps of flowering aloe).
Like most sunbirds, it feeds mainly on nectar, supplementing its diet with insects, including ants, bees, beetles, bugs, flies, moths, spiders, and wasps, and more rarely, small lizards, especially when feeding its young. It may hunt in a similar manner to a flycatcher, hawking for insect prey from a perch.
Most sunbird species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time. As a fairly large sunbird, the malachite sunbird is no exception: it has long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to nectar feeding.
Plant species from which malachite sunbirds feed include aloe varieties like bitter aloe, krantz aloe, mountain aloe, soup aloe, sand aloe, snake aloe, and protea species like African protea, common protea, Hottentot white protea, northern protea, narrow-leaved protea, sickle-leaved protea, and silver protea.
Other bird-pollinated feeding sources include arum lilies, Cape-honeysuckle, disa orchid, glossy bottlebrush, maroon honey flower, sagewood, strelitzia, torch lilies, watsonia, wild daggas, wild olives, and wild tobacco.
Assembled solely by the female, the oval nest is a teardrop-shaped construction built of dry grass and plants bound with spider web. As with most sunbirds, it’s usually suspended, or constructed inside a low bush 1-2 metres above ground. It’s territorial and aggressive when nesting, but the sunbird has been recorded as host of the red-chested cuckoo and Klaas’s cuckoo.
The sunbird species is a monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with pair bonds only lasting for the duration of the breeding season. A breeding pair’s territory can be as small as 800m² and usually contains large clumps of flowering plants. The male is hardly present during the whole breeding process, occasionally bringing food to the female or chicks.
The sunbird is often double-brooded, producing two broods each breeding season, with egg-laying peaking from September-December. It lays 1-4 green eggs which are incubated solely by the female for about 12-14 days. Every 15-50 minutes it takes a break to go foraging – the male rarely brings her food.
The chicks are fed mainly by the female until fledging time, when their wings are well-developed for flight. They remain in the nest for about 13-17 days, becoming independent up to 24 days later, but they return to the nest to roost for a time.
Its call is a loud tseep-tseep.
A passerine (perching) member of the thrush family, the groundscraper thrush is a handsome 22–24cm long bird, with an erect posture, short tail, heavy bill and fairly long legs. It makes the most of its length by standing very upright. Their backs are plain brown with a chestnut wing-panel, but their underparts are covered with striking black markings on white and the face is white with bold black markings. The underwing has a black and white pattern which is visible during the undulating flight.
Distribution and habitat
There are four distinct subspecies of groundscraper thrush: the most southerly form occurs from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique south through to the northern and eastern parts of South Africa.
The second population is found in southern Angola, northern Namibia and north-west Botswana while a third stretches in a band from northern Angola across to western Tanzania, southern DRC, Malawi and north-west Mozambique. The fourth inhabits the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, separated from the others by its range.
Here it is locally common across much of the northern half of the region, generally preferring sandveld, grasslands, and open woodlands, such as miombo and Mopani, more rarely in fine-leaved Acacia copses.
Normally seen on the ground, it can be tame and will forage for food on the ground in parks, gardens, picnic sites, playing fields and commercial orchards, favouring areas of short grass (like a lawn) or sparse cover.
Feeding and diet
The groundscraper thrush feeds mainly on insects, including flies, beetles, spiders, slugs, grasshoppers, mole cricket grubs, and northern harvester termite, plucking them from the ground with short grass tufts, scratching and scraping in leaf litter. It occasionally forages aerially, often taking insects flushed by bushfires.
Despite spending most of its life on the ground, the groundscraper thrush nests in trees. A cup-shaped nest is built using various vegetation, but its composition varies from region to region; it most commonly builds a bowl of pliable stems, but it can also be built of grass, rootlets and weeds secured with spider web and lined with feathers or leaves reinforced with midribs of Acacia leaves. It’s typically placed in a vertical or horizontal fork against the tree trunk, often near the nests of fork-tailed drongos, to take advantage of the drongo’s aggressive nest defence tactics.
Egg-laying season runs from August-March, peaking from September-November. Two to four eggs are laid, which are incubated by both sexes for 14-15 days. The eggs are speckled with lilac and red-brown spots on a pale blue background.
The chicks are cared for by both parents, leaving the nest after about 16 days. The fledglings usually remain dependent on their parents for six weeks after leaving, and they may even beg for food after their parents’ next brood has hatched. The parents are extremely dedicated in their defence of the young, sometimes attacking human intruders who come too close to the nest.
The groundscraper thrush has a slow whistled song and a clicking call.
Known as the draaihals in Afrikaans, the red-throated wryneck, also known as the rufous-necked wryneck, red-breasted wryneck, African wryneck or rufous-throated wryneck, is a savannah species of wryneck in the woodpecker family.
With its woodpecker-like bill and zygodactylous (when each foot’s toes are arranged in pairs, with two toes projecting forward and two backward) toe formation, it’s not surprising to find this bird placed in the woodpecker family. However it differs by having softer plumage, especially in its tail which lacks the stiff shafts of its woodpecker relatives.
As a tree-climbing specialist, it has cryptic plumage, with intricate patterning of greys and browns. Its head, back and throat is coloured brown while the bill is coloured grey and legs olive.
Distribution and habitat
Resident in sub-Saharan Africa, the red-throated wryneck is a savannah bird, with populations scattered across the continent, including one confined to Swaziland and South Africa.
Within southern Africa it occurs in the eastern half of South Africa, from Limpopo province to the Eastern Cape, generally preferring grassland with sparse or scattered trees. Much of its time is spent on the ground rather than in trees.
Its soft, cryptically coloured, plumage and habit of not calling much during the winter months leads many birders to mistakenly assume that wrynecks are migratory. They are however generally sedentary and remain in their territories year round.
An ant-eating specialist, the red-throated wryneck feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites, with adaptations to assist in the mopping up of large numbers of ant prey.
Its long tongue is capable of extending more than 60mm past the tip of its bill, enabling it to hold hundreds of ants or ant larvae in each beakful.
Covered with a sticky mucus secretion from its salivary glands, this weapon is flicked out at amazing speed to gather beakfuls of ants for delivery to hungry chicks. It also often excavates ant nests, scooping them up with its sticky tongue.
It will forage for food on the ground, but is usually seen hunting for prey within tree foliage. It also consumes a range of invertebrates such as butterflies, bees, wasps, and locusts, which are usually hawked aerially, killed and then eaten.
It usually nests in tree cavities made by other bird species, especially woodpeckers and barbets (including the black-collared barbet and crested barbet), but it can also use natural tree holes, nest boxes and hollow metal fence posts.
It has been recorded as host of the lesser honeyguide.
Egg-laying season is from August-February, peaking in October. It lays 1-6, usually 3-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 13 days. The chicks are cared for by both parents, staying in the nest for about 25-26 days. The juveniles become independent soon after fledging.
If threatened, an older chick will perform a threat display similar to a striking snake, extending its neck forward then rapidly recoiling.
The red-throated wryneck’s voice is a nasal woodpecker-like call.
Previously considered as a subspecies of hoopoe, due to its vocalisations and small differences in plumage, the exotic-looking African hoopoe differs from its Eurasian counterpart by the colouration of the males. Notable for its distinctive “crown” of feathers, the male African hoopoe has richer cinnamon colouration on its upperparts, lacks the subterminal (near the end) white band on the crest and has all black primaries.
An eye-catching bird with a colourful appearance, their plumage is a cinnamon colour with contrasting black and white stripes on their wings and tails. Their underparts, head, throat and back are also cinnamon in colour. The hoopoe’s beak is black, long and slender and slightly downward curved. As with most bird species, the female hoopoe is duller in appearance.
Weighing 57g and measuring 25–29cm in length, the African hoopoe has a broad 44-48cm wingspan and a square-shaped black tail with a wide white band. Their heads have a distinctive crest with long chestnut coloured feathers which have black tips. The crest lies backwards when the bird is resting; however, if alarmed or excited, the crest opens up and displays a striking circular shape.
Distribution and habitat
African hoopoes are widespread across Africa except in western and central equatorial lowlands forests. Some African hoopoe populations are migratory while others are sedentary.
In Southern Africa, it is widely distributed throughout South Africa, except for Lesotho and the arid Karoo. For breeding, the hoopoe requires a cooler climate.
The hoopoe has two basic habitat requirements: bare or lightly vegetated ground on which to forage and vertical surfaces with cavities (in trees, cliffs, walls, nestboxes, haystacks, or abandoned burrows) in which to nest. It generally prefers open woodlands and thornveld with short grass undergrowth, but it has adapted well to man-made habitats, such as orchards and plantations, and parks and suburban gardens.
Human modification of natural habitats has seen hoopoes becoming commonplace in olive groves, orchards, vineyards, and farmland, although they are declining in intensively farmed areas, where they are out competed for nesting sites by the common starling. The main threats to its survival are habitat loss and climate change.
Behaviour and socialisation
A skittish, wary bird, the African hoopoe is generally found either singly or in pairs (occasionally small loose flocks are seen during the migration season).
Anti-social by nature, hoopoes are fiercely territorial, with territory usually populated with a single mating couple. The male frequently calls to mark his territory and will readily fight with intruders to defend his terrain. Fights between rival males (and sometimes females) are common and can be brutal. Birds will try to stab rivals with their bills, and combatants are occasionally blinded in fights.
From the age of six days, nestlings can also direct streams of faeces at intruders, and will hiss at them in a snake-like fashion. The young also strike with their bill or with one wing.
A cavity nester, the African hoopoe builds its nest in tree trunk holes, either natural or made by barbets or woodpeckers, always chosen and protected by the male, who defends it vigorously. They have also been known to nest in abandoned termite nests, stone walls, ground holes, drainage pipes, masonry crevices, underfloor landings, house ceilings, nest boxes, boulder hollows, and even under houses.
Nests are generally lined with grass, debris or dried manure.
Hoopoes have well-developed anti-predator defences in the nest, which are built with narrow entrances to prevent predators from entering. The brooding and incubating female secretes a foul-smelling liquid substance from an oil gland which is rubbed into the plumage.
The secretion, which smells like rotten meat, is thought to help deter both predators and parasites, yet at the same time it also attracts its primary prey – insects – and possibly acts as an antibacterial agent. The secretions stop soon before the young leave the nest.
Hoopoes are well known for their smelly, dirty nests, which they re-use year after year without removing their droppings.
It’s been recorded as host of the greater honeyguide.
Hoopoes are monogamous, although the pair bond only lasts for a single season. Egg-laying season runs from August-February, peaking between September to November.
Clutch size varies with location – birds at higher latitudes have larger clutches than those closer to the equator – but here on average they lay 4-7 eggs, usually in successive days, although they sometimes takes a two day break in between.
The eggs are milky blue when laid, but quickly discolour in the increasingly dirty nest, before hatching after an incubation period of 14 to 16 days. Brooded solely by the female for 9-16 days, during which time the male feeds the female, incubation begins when the last egg has been laid, so the chicks are born asynchronously,. The female will huff and hiss if disturbed on the nest.
Once hatched, the male does all the hunting for the chicks in the first week of their lives, after which the female joins in too. The chicks hatch with a sparse covering of downy feathers, but by day three to five, feather quills emerge which become the adult feathers.
Chicks are born helpless, naked and blind. They fledge in 26–32 days, after which they leave the nest for the surrounding foliage, becoming fully independent about a month later. One to three broods are produced annually by hoopoe birds.
The average lifespan of hoopoe in the wild is 10 years.
A forager by nature, the African hoopoe rummages through fallen leafs and plant matter with its long, thin beak and probes the ground for beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, grasshoppers, grubs, harvester termites, mole crickets, slugs, and worms, using its sharp bills to locate its prey.
However, once caught, the hoopoe will beat its prey on the ground to reduce it to bite-size pieces, removing its legs and wings before tossing it into the air and catching it in its open beak.
Among vertebrates, African hoopoes will eat frogs, lizards, and small burrowing snakes, probing the ground with their beak to collect insect pupae or larvae in animal faecal matter. They will also eat seeds and occasionally berries in small quantities.
It feeds throughout the day, usually in low grass or bare soil.
The African hoopoe derives its onomatopoeic name from its repetitive “hooo-pooo” call, sung five times or more.
With its brilliant chestnut back and wings, crested grey head, and cobalt blue-ringed bill and eye wattle, the African paradise flycatcher in full breeding colours is a striking sight to behold.
The most arresting of the eight flycatchers seen in Nambiti, paradise flycatchers may be diminutive woodland birds, but their startling bright colours, noisy calls and high tolerance for human presence make them special to watch.
Not just because of its distinctive chestnut colouring that sets it apart from the other local flycatchers, but also because of the male’s strikingly long tail which makes it appear larger than it actually is.
The adult male’s tail is longer than the length of its body (about 17cm), but in the breeding season, its two central tail streamers almost double this to over 30cm.
Unlike many other bird species, both the males and females have similar bold plumage colouration, but the female is drabber with a shorter tail. They are predominantly chestnut, with dark, black heads, necks and underparts, blue bills and eye-rings, and chestnut wings and tail with a prominent white wingbar. The female has a browner tint to the underparts and lacks the wingbar and tail streamers.
Their legs are relatively short and when perched, they have quite an upright stance.
Distribution and habitat
Found throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, paradise flycatchers are intra-Africa migrants that migrate to warmer parts of the continent, including the north-east coast of South Africa, during the cold winter months.
In summer, from September to March, they are found singly or in pairs throughout the region with the exception of the very dry areas.
Well adapted to riverine and evergreen forests, it generally prefers savannah and open woodlands, open grassland with isolated trees, plantations, and scrubland. They are also often found in orchards and suburban gardens with plenty of trees.
One of eight flycatchers found in Southern Africa, the African paradise flycatcher is the most widely distributed, and has been seen as far south as Cape Point in the Western Cape.
Flycatchers are passerine (perching) birds, sitting upright on their short legs whilst perched prominently on small branches, hawking and catching flying insects in mid-air, or darting under foliage to glean tasty prey.
During the mating season, the long-tailed male will put on a colourful courtship display to attract the females, sometimes courting several at a time, flying across a clearing in a bobbing motion to best expose his bright underbelly and long flashy tail.
Once settled onto a branch he’ll call the females closer with his crest raised and bill (beak) wide open, exposing the brilliant yellow inside of his mouth, while at the same time quivering his wingtips and sweeping his long tail back and forth. To press home his advantage, he may even add a little jig to his display. As a finale, he’ll fan his tail, droop his wings and call plaintively.
Once a mate is chosen and accepted, African paradise flycatchers are monogamous, pairing for life.
They are very noisy birds and can be difficult to photograph as they seem to be constantly on the move as they weave their way through the tangled branches beneath the canopy, where the light is patchy and of poor quality.
As their name suggests, the African paradise flycatcher is insectivorous, feeding mainly on insects, which they usually catch on the wing while in flight. However, they don’t limit themselves to flies; they will hover and dart under leaves to hunt caterpillars, beetles, moths, butterflies, flying termites, cicadas, ants and even spiders. It also sometimes consumes berries and fruit.
Built as high as possible above the ground, often on an exposed branch in the fork of a tree, the African paradise flycatcher’s cup-shaped nest is an exquisitely crafted construction of both fine and coarse material. Neat and barely larger than an egg-cup, it’s made with grasses, bark and dry leaves, then covered with soft grass and leaves.
Once the framework is completed, the nest is lined and camouflaged with lichen or even animal hair, uniquely held together by spider web.
Camouflaged the nest may be, but when the male is incubating the eggs his impressive tail hangs well clear of the nest and his presence may be quite obvious to passers-by!
African paradise flycatchers are monogamous and spend equal times on the nest. They will tolerate fairly close human presence, which can mean excellent pictures if you are discreet and quick.
Males defend the territory surrounding their nest and in the case of a few nests close together, will defend the territory communally.
African paradise flycatchers are cooperative breeders and building the nest and incubating the eggs is a job equally shared by both sexes. Breeding and egg-laying season varies from one region to another but in Nambiti it peaks between October and January.
The female lays a clutch of 2-3 eggs that hatch after an incubation period of 13–15 days. New-born chicks are fed for at least a week after they have left the nest. However, if the nests are found by diederik cuckoos, green-backed honeybirds or Jacobin cuckoos, these brood parasites may forcefully remove the flycatcher’s eggs leaving their own eggs and subsequent young to be incubated and fed by the flycatchers.
The African paradise flycatcher is a vocal bird with a harsh scolding call, often heard long before it’s sighted. Its call seems to vary across the continent, but in Nambiti, it has a raspy, shrill contact and alarm call, but its song is a very pleasant rippling warble.
Named for its blue plumage detail, the blue waxbill is a small, slender member of the finch family, weighing just 8 to 13g, with a powder-blue face, throat, breast, rump, flanks, and tail dominating over its pale brown upper body (crown, back of the head and back). Its bill is short and conical and pinkish-grey in colour.
In the male the underparts, save for the abdomen and under-tail coverts, are bright sky blue. In the female, the blue extends only onto the breast and flanks, and the belly is off-white. The female resembles the male, except for a paler, duller plumage and less distinctive blue feathering, with the blue confined only to the rump, tail, head, and upper breast.
Native to Southern Africa, where they are commonly found in South Africa’s north-eastern provinces (Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal), beyond our borders, the blue waxbill occurs as far north as the Congo, Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, and even on the islands of São Tomé and Zanzibar.
The blue waxbill generally prefers well-watered and semi-arid savanna, particularly where umbrella thorn acacia and Mopani trees (aka the balsam, butterfly, or turpentine tree) grow. Their natural habitats are open grasslands, savanna, woodlands, and forest edges, generally avoiding forest interiors. They are often seen feeding on the ground in urban areas and also occupy natural growth in cultivated lands.
The blue waxbill mainly eats grass seeds, grains, and millets, supplemented with termites, caterpillars and other small insects. They have also been recorded eating the fallen fruits of the Shepherd or Shepherd’s Tree (Afrikaans: Witgat; Zulu: Umvithi), a protected tree in South Africa. Occasionally, they also eat beeswax. When raising young in particular, they will consume insects to ensure adequate levels of protein in their chicks’ diet – needed for their rapid growth.
The blue waxbill breeds mainly from December to May, but egg laying usually peaks in January. Up to seven eggs can be laid, but the average clutch size is 4-5 eggs, incubated by both sexes for 11-12 days. Once hatched, both parents feed the chicks on green grass seeds and termites, until they fledge after 17–21 days. The hatchlings are ready to fend for themselves a week after fledgling, becoming fully independent at 2 to 3 weeks of age when they leave the nest permanently. During the breeding season, males can get quite aggressive towards other males.
Built by both sexes from twigs and green, flowering grass stems and lined with feathers, the blue waxbill’s nest is an oval-shaped structure with a short side-entrance tunnel. The dome-shaped nest is usually placed among the foliage of a bush or tree, especially umbrella thorn and sickle bush.
Blue waxbills often choose to build their nest near wasps’ nests. While there is no evidence that wasps deter nest predators, the birds may use them to determine the presence of arboreal ants in the tree.
They may also re-use the old nests of other birds, such as the scarlet-chested sunbird, spectacled weaver or black-chested prinia, sometimes building a new structure on top of the original.
Usually seen in loose family parties or in pairs when breeding, blue waxbills can often be seen in the company of other small seed-eaters when they form larger flocks. They’ll fly into the nearest tree when disturbed.
5 to 7 years.
Blue-waxbills are often the prey of the African goshawk and some owls.
The blue waxbill’s call is a soft ‘seee-seee’, often repeated as it flits through the lower parts of bush and scrub.
Formerly known as the dideric or didric cuckoo, the diederik cuckoo derives its English name from the onomatopoeic rendition of its call. Adult males are glossy green above with copper-sheened areas on the back and whitish underparts. They have a broken white eye-stripe and a short, green malar (cheekbone) stripe. All flight feathers have three to four white spots on the inner vanes. The four green outer tail feathers are tipped white, and the outermost pair are spotted white on both vanes.
Females show more copper above, and have coppery barring on the flanks. The underparts are often washed brownish. Juveniles have a red bill, streaky throat and a white wing-bar. They are more copper-coloured above and browner below than the females, and the flank markings are brown blotches.
Distribution and habitat
A short-distance seasonal migrant, moving with the rains, the diederik cuckoo occurs across sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula, where it’s a common resident breeder; it’s even been recorded as far north as Cyprus (1982). It’s a solitary bird, generally preferring forest edges, savannah, light and densely wooded forests, semi-arid shrublands, riverside bush, and occasionally moving into Mopani woodland. It’s an urban dweller too, and equally at home in parks, gardens and in old vacated buildings.
Feeding and diet
The diederik cuckoo feeds almost exclusively on invertebrates, especially caterpillars, but also termites, butterflies, bees, wasps, locusts, ants and even the eggs of its host, which are usually hawked aerially. It typically forages in the foliage of trees and bushes, gleaning prey from leaves and stems, and occasionally swooping down to the ground to pick up its prey.
Instead of building its own nest, the diederik cuckoo invades the nests of other birds. If the bird doesn’t find an empty nest it’ll attack the host (original nest owner) and displace it.
Its most common hosts are the southern red bishop (aka red bishop), southern masked-weaver, and Cape sparrow. Various other birds, including flycatchers (African paradise-flycatcher and Marico flycatcher), scrub-robins (Kalahari, Karoo and white-browed scrub-robin), sparrows (great and southern grey-headed sparrow), and weavers (red-headed, Cape, village/spotted-backed, lesser masked, spectacled, yellow, and golden weaver) have also been recorded as host of the Diderick cuckoo – along with the golden-breasted bunting, rattling cisticola, Karoo prinia (aka the spotted prinia), Cape wagtail, chestnut-vented tit-babbler, Cape wagtail, mountain wheatear, white-winged widowbird (aka the white-winged widow).
The diederik cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in other bird’s nests. The host, thinking that the egg is its own, incubates the egg and nurtures the chick.
It lays 3-5 eggs a day, and up to 22-24 eggs can be laid in its 10-12 week breeding season, from October to March. Before laying the egg, the female cuckoo waits for the potential host to leave the nest before flying in to inspect it.
If it’s suitable, it will either throw out any existing eggs that the host has laid, or carry them to a nearby perch to eat them, before laying its own egg (rarely two), after which it leaves.
When it leaves the nest, it’s often mobbed, chased, and sometimes even killed, by the host bird. Also, females sometimes get stuck in the nest entrance and are pecked to death by lesser masked-weavers.
Within the first three days of hatching, the cuckoo chick eats any other eggs or chicks that weren’t present in the nest at the time of laying. It is fed by the host, staying in the nest for about 19-22 days, after which the chick remains with its adopted parents for about 21 more days.
Its main predator is the Wahlberg’s eagle.
It’s a noisy species, with a persistent and loud deed-deed-deed-deed-er-ick call from which it gets its name. Usually four clear, roughly identical, notes followed by a little twitter.
An attractive bird with distinctive colouration, the male mocking cliff-chat has a glossy black, white and reddish-brown plumage with white shoulder patches (which vary in size geographically) and a chestnut belly, vent, and rump. The female is reddish-brown and dark grey, with a chestnut lower breast, belly, and vent.
Common to the eastern half of South Africa, the mocking cliff-chat can be found as far south as the Eastern Cape, but beyond our borders they’re found across Zimbabwe, south-eastern Botswana, and southern Mozambique, all the way up to Tanzania and as far north as central Ethiopia.
It remains resident throughout most of its distribution, but in the south of its range, such as the Drakensberg, it tends to head to lower altitudes in winter. Once observed in a particular area, they are easy to find again as they tend to stick to the same habitat.
The mocking cliff-chat generally inhabits rocky, boulder strewn areas that have some vegetation to provide them cover; they are commonly found in well-wooded rocky ravines, cliffs, gullies, boulder-scattered hillsides and watercourses in valley bottoms with scattered rocks.
The habitually wag their tails, slowly raising over their backs and fanning it out.
The mocking cliff chat is mainly insectivorous but also feeds on fruit and occasionally the nectar of aloes, such as the krantz aloe, Aloe arborescens. It does most of its foraging from a perch, pouncing on prey on the ground, but it may also glean food from branches and foliage.
The nest is built by both sexes in about a week, consisting of an open cup set into a foundation of twigs, leaves, roots and feathers. It’s typically placed in the abandoned nest of a striped swallow, who are sometimes evicted while they’re still in the process of breeding, and lined with the hair of antelopes and hyraxes. The nest is usually positioned beneath a rock overhang, bridge, culvert, or in a cave. It may occasionally use a hole in a wall or a cavity in agricultural machinery.
Egg-laying season is from August-December, peaking from September-November. The normal clutch size is 2-4 eggs, which the female incubates solely for about 14-16 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge at about three weeks old, leaving the nest after about 19-21 days.
A loud fluty melodious warbling song which often contains many rapid-fire phrases mimicking other species, with some harsher phrases interspersed.