2018 is the Year of the Bird, where world-wide these winged creatures, and the importance they play in the ecosystem, will be celebrated. Sabi Sabi endeavours to protect all animals in our part of the African continent, but birds hold a special place in our hearts.
Hundreds of avian species whirr through the air, swooping down and plunging towards the ground, gliding effortlessly on warm air currents and patrolling the skies. Like multi-coloured feathered jewels some are breathtakingly spectacular, their feathers reflecting like mirrors in the sunshine as they preen on branches or chase after their next meal. Though many birds live the bulk of their lives on the ground, they are still capable of flying. The only flightless bird in South Africa is the ostrich, the largest living bird and also the fastest.
Whether out on safari, or observing from the comfort of your 5-star suite, the many facets of birdlife intrigue visitors to the bushveld. Their appearance, calls and mating habits are all unique, but even more fascinating are their nesting (or not nesting) habits. Not all bird species build nests, some lay their eggs directly on the ground. Others are brazen freeloaders, depositing their eggs in the nest of a different species and having their chicks raised by unsuspecting “foster parents”. Breeding behaviour is varied, with some species refurbishing their nests annually, some building a new one each year, and birds like the Bateleur Eagle returning to their same nest year after year, remembering the exact tree and its location even after a long migration.
The Southern yellow-billed Hornbill really goes the extra mile in an attempt to protect its hatchlings. Once a pair of hornbills has mated, a site is selected in a natural hole in a tree trunk, usually facing north east. The male collects grass, leaves and bark to line the bottom of the nest, creating a comfortable home for his mate, as this is where she will remain for the next couple of weeks. Using her own droppings, the female constructs a wall to seal herself inside, leaving a small slit through which her devoted partner feeds her. The female hornbill leaves the nest when her young are about a month old, after which the parents and chicks reseal the entrance, once again leaving a slit through which the chicks will be fed until they are mature enough to break out, leave the nest and join their parents on foraging trips.
By comparison, the Hamerkop prefers a more spacious home to rear its young. So named because its head shape, curved bill and crest at the back resembles a hammer, this bird’s name literally means “hammer head”. This distinctive species has superb building skills, constructing massive nests of up to 1.5 metres wide and sturdy enough to support the weight of a man. The assembly process, which can take up to three months, commences when a pair of hamerkops create a platform of sticks glued together with mud – often positioned in the fork of a tree hovering over water. They then proceed to build walls and a domed roof and decorate the outside with brightly coloured objects found in the surrounding environment. In a nesting chamber inside the dome, there is ample space for both parents and their young. Squatters such as owls, bees and snakes love to occupy the hamerkop’s nest, creating the need to build a new one. The hapless birds sometimes construct between three to five nests per year, independent of their breeding cycle.
Regarded as one of the ‘small five’ in the animal kingdom, the Red-billed Buffalo Weaver’s nest is an enormous mass of thorny twigs. These twigs are divided into separate compartments with multiple egg chambers. Inside each chamber is a small nest, typically built by the females. The Red-billed Buffalo Weaver breeds in colonies where a dominant male has the most females and egg chambers, and the males classified lower on the social system, have less. Dominance between males inside the chambers is displayed through loud and aggressive calls.
Sabi Sabi is renowned as a birder’s paradise and is home to almost 350 species. As part of our holistic safari experience our guides educate their guests on not only the animals which live on our reserve, but also the incredible birds which are a joy to behold.
Follow ‘The Year of the Bird’ initiative on social media under #birdyourworld