the birds and the bee-eaters

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.

blacksmith lapwing

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.

lilac breasted roller

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.

saddle billed stork

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.

red hornbill

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.

martial eagle

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.

european bee-eater

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!

fork tailed drongo

by: Richard de Gouveia (Little Bush Camp ranger)


  1. ranger rich says

    Thanks Syl! I love the birds and they are often overshadowed by the cats and the bigger mammals, but once you have seen the big stuff it is always nice to look at the smaller things. There are so many birds meaning that there are always new birds to see and more interesting behaviour to learn about!

  2. ranger rich says

    Only had fleeting glimpses of the owls… mostly seen Verreaux’s Eagle Owl! Otherwise all good this side! Will be back on drive again today!

  3. john middleton says

    About the bee eaters ,they have just arrived here in Blanca, Murcia in Spain for the Summer after spending the winter in the southern hemisphere, we have a large flock – possibly a couple of hundred in the campo round our house, they stay untill the end of august / mid September. What beautiful birds.

    • angie says

      well here in bulgaria if you have an apiary, look forward to poverty due to the utter destuction of your bee colonies as these bird munch their way thru 250 bees a day EACH all summer long….yes beauty is definitley in the eye of the beholder… and undoubtedly not the eye of a a beekeeper interested in saving the planet through pollination of crops ect ect and making a very modest living doing it!! They will eat around 300 different species normally but here they circle apiaries all day, every day, all summer, and the species is bees and also the wasps that would also kill bees but somehow with so many bees on the menu, they forget the wasps….as a beekeeper, they are a pest and not my friend, regardless of the ‘nice colours’

      • sabi sabi says

        We can definitely see how these birds would have a negative effect on you and your business. Nature has always intended certain functions to each creature and they carry out their functions to perfection. Unfortunately nature didn’t design these creatures with the idea of agriculture in mind. They were put out here to control the insect populations, particularly those of bees. We can definitely appreciate your role in trying to keep bee populations up especially with the world wide crisis we have with the loss of bees due to many different factors. We truly hope that somehow science will assist you in finding a way to minimize your loses without the birds being harmed. The birds form part of a massive system and as much as we can’t afford all the bees to be lost we cannot afford the loss of these birds either as they both have very important roles to play in the worldwide ecosystem. Thank you for your comment and we wish you all the best.

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