Author Archives: de Wets Wild

About de Wets Wild

Nature and wildlife enthusiast, based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Olive Sunbird

Cyanomitra olivacea

The shy but vocal Olive Sunbird is a forest denizen by habit, and usually the most commonly encountered sunbird where they occur. They nest throughout spring and summer. Adults weigh only between 8 and 15g, measuring around 15cm long. Not much else is known about these tiny nectar-feeders.

Due to its very specific habitat preferences, the Olive Sunbird has a very restricted distribution in South Africa – here they are found only along the Indian Ocean coast from East London through to northern Kwazulu-Natal, and in a small corner of Mpumalanga around Nelspruit and Barberton. Further north into Africa they are widely distributed through east, central and West Africa. The IUCN lists the species as being of least concern, despite the threat of habitat loss due to uncontrolled deforestation in much of its range.



Colophospermum mopane

Anyone who has visited the northern Kruger National Park would be well acquainted with the Mopane, a tree that proliferates in hot, dry, low-lying areas. Apart from the Limpopo Valley and northern Lowveld in South Africa, the Mopane is mainly found south of the Kunene and Zambezi Rivers. In dry, shallow soils the Mopane grows as a short shrub, dominating the landscape, but in deep, damp alluvial soils they may grow to 30m tall, forming beautiful woodlands. The trees are a favourite for many browsing animals, with elephants especially being very fond of every part of the tree, including the rough bark.

Mopane wood is hard and termite resistant, making it sought-after as a building material, for fences and mining, railway sleepers and for making furniture. It is also one of the most widely used trees for fire-wood where it occurs. The Mopane is probably best known though as the food source for a uniquely African delicacy; the protein-rich Mopane Worm – more correctly the caterpillar of the Mopane Moth Gonimbrasia belina.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

Buphagus africanus

Inhabiting savannas and open woodlands, most often near a reliable water source, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers are reliant on populations of large game (mainly buffalo, giraffe, black and white rhinos, hippos and large antelope) and untreated livestock from which they can glean the ticks and other ectoparasites on which they subsist. They will also feed on blood dripping from open wounds on their hosts, often hampering their healing and recovery.

Adult Yellow-billed Oxpeckers measure around 20cm in length, with a weight of about 60g. Pairs are monogamous and breed in holes in trees during spring and summer, raising clutches of 2-3 chicks, often with the help of immature birds from previous broods.

Exterminated from South Africa as a result of the rinderpest epidemic of the 1890’s, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers naturally recolonized the Kruger National Park from Zimbabwe only in the 1970’s. They were also introduced to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in northern Kwazulu-Natal in the 1980’s but as they’re not being seen there any more this was probably not successful. Today they are still classified as Vulnerable in South Africa and the Lowveld remains the only reliable place to see the Yellow-billed Oxpecker in our country, though the IUCN lists the species as being of Least Concern overall, indicating a patchy distribution that spans much of southern, eastern, central and western Africa.



Cape Crow

Corvus capensis

The Cape Crow inhabits a wide range of habitats, from beaches and arid scrublands to mountain grasslands and savanna, but is most common in open habitats with a scattering of trees. They follow an omnivorous diet, feeding on anything from seeds and berries to tortoises and chickens and scavenging at rubbish dumps and road kills. They are less frequently associated with urban environments than the Pied Crow but are very common in many agricultural areas. Fully grown, Cape Crows measure about 50cm in length and weigh around half a kilogram.

Pairs are monogamous and territorial, but occasionally Cape Crows congregate in flocks of 50 or more birds outside the breeding season, which spans spring and summer. Their nests are large bowl-shaped constructions built by the female, using materials sourced by the male, on top of trees, utility poles or cliffs. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 3 week period. The chicks stay in the nest for up to 6 weeks, and may stay with their parents for up to 6 months after fledging.

The Cape Crow occurs widely in South Africa, being absent only from the Lowveld and Limpopo Valley and seen very infrequently in parts of the Free State and Northern Cape. They are also found in Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe, with a separate population in eastern Africa, from Tanzania to Eritrea. The IUCN lists the Cape Crow as a species of least concern.

Cape Bunting

Emberiza capensis

Cape Buntings inhabit dry scrub, heathland, grasslands and woodland in rocky terrain, often in hilly and mountainous areas or along dry watercourses. They’re also familiar in the parks and gardens of villages within their distribution range, becoming quite tame around humans and even entering homes in search of food. They forage on the ground, their diet including seeds, insects, berries, and flower buds.

Cape Buntings occur singly, in pairs or in small family groups, with no records of larger aggregations. Pairs are monogamous and build their cup-shaped nests close to the ground in a thick shrub or bush. They breed throughout the year, with a distinct peak in nesting behaviour during the spring months. The clutch of 2-5 eggs are incubated for a period of two weeks, with the chicks leaving the nest even before they are 2 weeks old. Adults weigh around 20g and grow to a length of about 16cm.

In South Africa, Cape Buntings are found in every province, though they are much more numerous in the central and western parts of the country. They also occur widely in Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and marginally into Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Swaziland and Botswana. It is considered of least concern by the IUCN.

Capped Wheatear

Oenanthe pileata

The Capped Wheatear inhabits dry, grassy or scrubby plains with open or overgrazed patches and often a rocky substrate, as well as recently ploughed or harvested fields. They feed on a very wide range of invertebrates and occasionally seeds and fruit. They move considerable distances after suitable habitat as their habitat changes with the seasons, and are especially fond of recently burned veld. They love sitting on elevated perches, like termite mounds or fence posts, and flies low to the ground between such vantage points.

Capped Wheatears are usually seen in pairs, or small family groups towards the end of the breeding season. Pairs are monogamous and territorial, and place their nests deep inside rodent burrows. In our part of the world Capped Wheatears breed in spring and summer. Clutches contain 2-5 eggs. Adults measure around 17cm in length and weigh approximately 25g.

According to the IUCN, the Capped Wheatear is a species of least concern. In South Africa they can be seen in the central and western parts of the country, being absent for the most part from the eastern parts of the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld. Furthermore their distribution stretches beyond our borders to the DRC in the west and Kenya on the east of the continent.

Rock Kestrel

Falco rupicolus

Despite what its name suggests, the Rock Kestrel is at home in a wide variety of habitats and occurs all over South Africa, though they are most numerous in arid, rocky terrain and require cliffs for roosting and nesting. They hunt over open areas for birds (up to the size of doves), small mammals (including bats in flight), reptiles and invertebrates. Adults measure about 32cm in length and weigh around 215g.

Rock Kestrels are often seen sitting on conspicuous perches or hovering over open areas, using both techniques as effective hunting strategies. Pairs are monogamous and territorial, nesting on cliff ledges and lately on tall buildings in towns and cities. Clutches of 1-6 eggs are laid in spring and summer, with the female mostly responsible for the incubation process over a period of about a month. The chicks fledge about 5 weeks after hatching, with the male in turn taking most of the hunting responsibility to provision the ravenous chicks and attending female. The chicks remain with their parents for another few weeks after leaving the nest.

The Rock Kestrel is a common species and not currently in any danger of extinction. Apart from South Africa it can be found as far north on the continent as Tanzania and the DRC. At one time it was considered a subspecies of the Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus).