In today’s blog Chanyn takes a closer look at a bird species and the direct relationship it has with mammals for the benefits of survival.
I can guarantee you, even if you’re not a big birder that you’ll notice an Oxpecker on safari! These are the clinging birds often found on animals such as impala, rhino, buffalo, hippo, kudu and many others.
There are two species; the Red-billed Oxpecker and Yellow-billed Oxpecker. The former being much more common.
They are indeed striking birds, especially when seen up close and personal. When looking at the face you can’t help but to notice their intense, bold yellow eye-rings with a full “blood” red bill. It’s without a doubt a bird worth seeing (on or off the animal) but here’s what makes it so very interesting…
The first thing that guests often say when observing these birds is that it looks as if they’re hitching a ride somewhere. It certainly looks that way at first until we take a closer look.
Oxpeckers feed, breed and do all sorts of other things on their mammalian hosts in order to survive. Something which makes them unique to all other birds – the fact that have such a “direct” relationship with mammals.
It’s quite entertaining to watch these birds scurry around the animals from top to bottom, sometimes even disappearing in their ears (as they do with rhinos!). They sometimes even pluck a hair or two from their host to line their nest (which is a cavity in a tree). They even court one another whilst on the host for and breed mostly in the rainy season when resources are plentiful – as well as parasites!
Oxpeckers have long claws to cling onto their mammalian hosts and their razor-sharp bills are perfectly adapted for scissoring through hair to find ectoparasites e.g. ticks to feed on. Their tail feathers are extra strong to support themselves when maneuvering around the body of the animal.
This magnificent relationship has for years been called “mutualism” as the mammal benefits by getting rid of parasites and the birds gets a meal thus both benefit. However in some cases this relationship turns into “parasitism”… If the animals have an open wound, Oxpeckers can prevent it from healing by constantly pecking and drinking the blood.
Either way, nature always knows best and there has to be a perfect reason for these animals interacting with one another. We’ll keep enjoying the show as they continue doing their thing in the ultimate circle of life.