Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Chalcomitra senegalensis

The Scarlet-chested Sunbird inhabits woodland, savanna (especially with thorn trees) and parks and gardens in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces, where it is considered a common resident. Outside our borders it occurs widely in Africa south of the Sahara, though avoiding the equatorial forests and dry desert areas. These are tiny birds, weighing only between 10 and 17g. Scarlet-chested Sunbirds feed on nectar and small invertebrates.

Breeding in Scarlet-chested Sunbirds has been recorded throughout the year. with a distinct peak in the summer months. The female is solely responsible for building the pear-shaped hanging nest from grass, leaves, bark and spider web, and incubating the eggs, of which there are between 1 and 3 in a clutch, for around two weeks. Both parents feed the chicks, who leave the nest at 2-3 weeks old and then stay with their parents for up to two months more.

With an abundant and stable population, the IUCN lists the Scarlet-chested Sunbird as least concern.

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Thick-tailed Bushbaby

Otolemur crassicaudatus

Also known as the Greater Galago, the Thick-tailed Bushbaby is a noctural primate named for its loud call that sounds very much like a crying human baby. Including their tail they can grow to 80cm in length, and weigh just over a kilogram.

Thick-tailed Bushbabies are found in riverine thickets, dense woodland and forests, mostly in areas of high rainfall. They subsist mainly on wild fruits and berries, seeds, flowers and tree gum, but will also eat insects, small reptiles and mammals, eggs and birds up to the size of guineafowls.

Groups of 2 – 6 are usually made up of related females and their young accompanied by a single mature male. Home ranges are marked by urinating on their hands and feet. Group members forage singly at night but sleep together in hide-aways like thick vegetation, densely leaved trees or self-constructed nests during the day. They’re mostly searching for food up in the trees, being capable of jumps over two meters far, though they spend more time on the ground than other kinds of bushbaby.

Most females give birth to 2 babies in spring and summer. The female carries the babies along on her back or hanging from her stomach when she goes in search of food. Greater Galagos fall prey to owls, pythons and leopards and other predators capable of climbing trees, though they are feisty and can dish out a nasty bite. Many die in bush fires. They have a life expectancy of up to 14 years.

The Thick-tailed Galago occurs widely over Central and Eastern Africa, but is restricted to the wetter eastern parts of Southern Africa. In South Africa they occur only in the north of Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province. It is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Grey Go-away-bird

Corythaixoides concolor

Named for its distinctive call, often giving advance warning of approaching danger, the Grey Go-away-bird, or Grey Lourie, is a large (50cm long, weighing up to 300g) and easily recognisable bird occurring in groups numbering from 2 or 3 to as many as 30.

The Grey Go-away-bird inhabits open woodlands and savanna, rich in fruiting trees and with easily accessible water sources, and has of late become increasingly numerous in towns and cities across its range. They feed primarily on fruits and berries, but also consume flowers, nectar, buds, leaves, snails and insects.

Grey Go-away-birds breed throughout the year, with a peak in the spring and summer months. The nests are flimsy constructions of sticks and twigs, and clutches usually consist of two or three eggs (range 1-4). Parental duties of incubation, which takes about 4 weeks, and chick rearing are shared equally between the male and female. The chicks are fed on regurgitated food and can fly when they’re about 35 days old, although they already leave the nest at about three weeks old.

With a stable population distributed over the DRC, Angola, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa, the Grey Go-away-bird is considered of least concern by the IUCN. In South Africa, Grey Go-away-birds can be commonly found in the provinces of Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, with a small number in extreme northern Kwazulu-Natal. The population in the Kruger National Park alone is estimated at about 65,000 birds.

Burchell’s Coucal

Centropus burchelli

Burchell’s Coucal is a common resident of South Africa’s wetter southern, eastern and northern provinces, where it is usually seen singly or in pairs in riverine thickets, dense, wet grasslands and marshes, reedbeds and densely planted parks and gardens. It is also found in Mozambique, Swaziland and parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe. They are carnivorous birds, preying on a variety of small mammals, birds, eggs, reptiles, amphibians, snails and insects, although they will consume a small quantity of fruit.

Breeding in this species takes place in spring and summer. Pairs are monogamous and males build the pair’s nest in thickets of low trees and shrubs or other dense vegetation. Clutches usually numbering four (range between 2 and 5) eggs are incubated for a little over two weeks, mostly by the male. Nestlings leave the nest at around three weeks old, but are still cared for by their parents for quite some time thereafter.

Adult Burchell’s Coucal grow to a total length of over 40cm and weigh up to 210g. Their distinctive call, like water flowing out of a bottle, is often heard at dawn and dusk. Some authorities consider Burchell’s Coucal to be a race of the White-browed Coucal (C. superciliosus).

Scrub Hare

Lepus saxatilis

Scrub Hares inhabit open scrublands, grassland and bushveld with patches of long grass and thickets. They are also commonly found in planted fields. They feed on fresh, green grass – preferring the shoots and rhizomes – but to a lesser extent will also feed on leaves and twigs of shrubs. They are independent of drinking water, gaining enough moisture from their food. Scrub Hares are quite variable in size as adults, those in the southwest of their range being largest and those in the northeast smallest: In length they vary from 40 – 70cm, in weight from 1.5 – 4.5kg. Females are larger than males from the same population.

Scrub Hares are mostly nocturnal, feeding from dusk to dawn, and resting by day in a regularly used patch of long grass or under a bush. They are mostly solitary animals, sometimes congregating in small groups in patches of good grazing or when several males assemble around a female on heat (which often leads to serious fights among them). They can attain speeds of up to 60km/h, but will usually only flee when a predator is almost on top of them, running in a zig-zag motion to cover.

Babies are born year-round, with a peak in spring and summer. Females give birth to between 1 and 3 young after a gestation of 42 days. The young are sexually mature at 6 months of age. All of Africa’s medium to large birds of prey and mammalian predators, as well as pythons, include the Scrub Hare in their diet. They have a short life expectancy of between 5 and 8 years.

The Scrub Hare is found all over South Africa, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland and the south of Namibia. The IUCN regards it as being of least concern, however it also points out that the population is declining due to habitat loss and hunting.

Crested Francolin

Dendroperdix sephaena

Crested Francolins inhabit dense woodlands, often in riverine areas and with a sparse grass cover, and areas of thicket in more open savannas. They follow an omnivorous diet, including insects, seeds, leaves, shoots and fruits and berries according to whatever is most easily available in the season. Adults weigh from 240 to 460g and are about 33cm long.

During the breeding season, which stretches through spring and summer, Crested Francolins are usually seen in monogamous pairs or small family parties, forming mixed groups of up to 7 birds at other times. Their nests are shallow scrapes in the ground lined with soft plant material, well hidden among grass and shrubs. Clutches consisting of 3-7 eggs are incubated by the female for around 3 weeks. The chicks are precocious and leave the nest about two hours after hatching to start foraging with their parents.

The Crested Francolin is distributed over much of eastern and southern Africa, and considered of least concern by the IUCN. In South Africa it occurs commonly in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West.

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lou Arthur in their guide to birding in Kruger Park mentions an apparent symbiotic relationship between African Wild Dogs and Crested Francolins, in which the francolins are allowed to peck up scraps of leftover meat around wild dog dens without harrassment, and in turn provide advance warning to the pack of dogs whenever dangerous predators are close to their den.

The distinctive call of the Crested Francolin is often heard at sunrise in many of our favourite wild places.

African Wattled Lapwing

Vanellus senegallus

African Wattled Lapwings are diurnal birds, usually seen singly, in pairs or small groups. Larger aggregations of 20 to 60 birds form occasionally in response to favourable local conditions. They feed on insects and grass seeds, and inhabit areas of short grass in marshes, flooded grasslands, and the edges of lakes, dams and rivers but are also found at times in dry grasslands, savannas and agricultural and sports fields and are particularly attracted to recently burnt areas. The African Wattled Lapwing is the biggest plover in Africa, and weigh around 250g with a wingspan of up to 86cm.

African Wattled Lapwings nest on the ground in shallow depressions scraped among weeds or short grass, almost always near water, during spring and summer. The nest is lined with grass, pebbles or dry dung before a clutch of 2-4 eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs for around 4 weeks, and although the chicks fledge at about 40 days old, they remain with their parents until the next breeding season starts. Pairs are highly territorial.

Due to its wide distribution over much of sub-Saharan Africa, and an apparently stable population, the IUCN considers the African Wattled Lapwing of least concern. In South Africa they are found in the north-east of the country, particularly in Kwazulu-Natal and on the Highveld (NE Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, SW Limpopo and the North West Province)