The one part of the bush that seems sorely neglected is that part that can soar above us… birds! And with 858 species in South Africa alone, they can make for some interesting viewing. From colourful and beautiful to bland and plain ugly, they capture our imagination as we watch them glide high amongst the clouds, do daring acrobatics and show off with some of the most insane mating displays.
The most colourful bird in Africa, the Lilac Breasted Roller, endeavours to attract a mate by doing some aerial acrobatics that has earned it its name. The male will fly high into the air making a rasping squawk to attract any female attention. Once he feels he has an audience, he loops in a U-shape until he reaches his peak and then free falls backwards before catching himself on his wings and doing an elaborate roll exposing his beautiful blue wings, which reflect the morning or evening light.
The Saddle-billed Stork is a very endangered bird in South Africa and with only 100 of these birds left in the country due to habitat loss and pollution of water sources it is always a highlight of my day when I see one. We have a mating pair that moves between the dams on the reserve and their striking colours make for some beautiful viewing.
The Hornbills are common birds in the area but have an amazing way of breeding. They are monogamous and will pair for life and once they have mated and the female is ready to lay eggs they will seek out a suitable nesting site inside a hole in a tree trunk, she will pluck out all her feathers to use as the base of her nest and take on the role of incubator. Her ‘husband’ does not like the idea of anyone else seeing her naked and closes the hole with mud and faeces leaving a hole just big enough for his and her beak to pass through so that he can feed her for the duration of the incubation. Once the eggs have hatched the female breaks out after having regrown her feathers and both parents take on the task of rearing the young.
The biggest eagle in Southern Africa, the Martial Eagle, is immense. These incredible birds will take out monkeys, baboons, birds up to the size of storks as well as young impala and other small antelope. They have enormous talons that crash down onto its victim often breaking their backs before they penetrate the flesh and then being hoisted into the air to be taken off to be eaten.
The bee-eaters are beautifully coloured birds that prey on insects in the area. During the winter months many of the species migrate to the Northern Hemisphere to cash in on the food abundance of their summer, coming back to the Southern Hemisphere to breed and feast. The smallest of the bee-eaters, the Little Bee-eater, stays for the winter and with numbers as high as 800 million around Africa, they are responsible for some SERIOUS insect control. Imagine each of them catching 10 insects every hour for 10 hours a day…now multiply that by 800 million… that’s a total of 80 billion insects a day! WOW! At the moment though our skies are filled with European Bee-eaters and their beautiful colours as well as their effortless flight make them a joy to watch.
The Fork-tailed Drongo is another very common resident in our area and is often seen flying amongst the large herbivores, which disturb the insects hiding in the grass making it easy for the birds to find them. The drongo is known as a kleptoparasite as it has a habit of stealing food from other creatures. One of the victims of this parasitism is the smallest carnivore in Africa, the Dwarf Mongoose. The drongo has learnt the alarm call of the Dwarf Mongoose and will mimic this call as soon as he sees a mongoose catch a tasty morsel causing the mongoose to drop his prize and run back to safety, leaving the drongo to pick up his meal and leave!