Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Common Bush Brown Butterfly

Bicyclus safitza

The Common Bush Brown inhabits savannas, woodlands and open forests on South Africa’s eastern coast and borders, stretching from Knysna on the Garden Route to the Soutpansberg in Limpopo. Adults have a wingspan of around 45mm and can be seen throughout the year, flying low to the ground and settling often. Males are darker than females. They are fond of rotting fruit.

Jameson’s Firefinch

Lagonosticta rhodopareia

The tiny (11cm, 9g) Jameson’s Firefinch is a bird of dry woodland and savanna, usually with a dense grass component and near water courses (they need ready access to surface water from a reliable source). They feed mainly on grass seeds supplemented with soft-bodied insects, being especially fond of termites.

Usually encountered in pairs or small groups, often in association with other small seed-eating birds, Jameson’s Firefinches are monogamous and may breed throughout the year. Their nests are oval-shaped, with a side-entrance, and built of grass by both partners, usually close to the ground in a dense shrub or grass tuft. The pair take turns at the incubation of the clutch of 2-7 eggs over a 2 week period. The hatchlings leave the nest when they’re almost 3 weeks old and then become independent of their parents within 2 weeks thereafter.

Jameson’s Firefinch is found in the northern provinces of South Africa and beyond our borders to Angola, the Congos, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The IUCN lists it as being of least concern.

Forest Leopard Butterfly

Phalanta eurytis

In South Africa, the Forest Leopard Butterfly is found over most of Kwazulu-Natal and along the escarpment in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where it inhabits dense woodland and forests (coastal, riverine and montane). Beyond our borders their distribution stretches through tropical Africa to Sudan and Ethiopia. Adults have a wingspan of about 45mm and are on the wing year round. They’re attracted to flowers and wet mud.

Brimstone Canary

Crithagra sulphurata

In South Africa, Brimstone Canaries are found from the Western Cape through to Kwazulu-Natal’s north coast, and then along the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, reflecting the species’ preference for coastal and montane thickets and forests. In the rest of Africa they’re also found patchily as far as Angola, the DRC, Uganda and Kenya. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern. They do venture into well-planted suburban gardens and exotic plantations.

Brimstone Canaries feed mainly on seeds and fruit and are rarely seen in flocks and then only in response to a localised food source, being more usually encountered singly, in pairs (which are monogamous) or family groups – often in association with other kinds of canaries. They may breed throughout the year, though mainly in the warmer months. The female builds the cup-shaped nest using grass and other fine plant materials in the fork of a tree, and incubates the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 2 week period while the male provisions food for her at the nest. The chicks leave the nest when they’re between 2 and 3 weeks old but remain with their parents for quite some time after. Adults weigh about 29g and measure 15cm in length.

False Dotted Border

Belenois thysa

In South Africa the False Dotted Border occurs in and on the edges of coastal and riverine forest habitat in Kwazulu-Natal and the extreme eastern parts of the Eastern Cape. Adults fly slowly and settle often and are on the wing throughout the year. They have a wingspan of around 55mm. Larvae feed on plants from the genus Boscia, Capparis and Maerua.

Chestnut-vented Warbler

Sylvia subcoerulea

With an unfortunate English name drawing even more attention to its most noticeable characteristic, the Chestnut-vented Warbler (or Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler) would probably prefer to go by its Afrikaans name “Bosveldtjeriktik” which imitates the first notes of its cheerful song.

Chestnut-vented Warblers are found in dry savannas, woodlands and thickets along drainage lines and hillsides and will also venture into gardens in small towns. They are very active when foraging, looking for insects, fruits, seeds and nectar amongst the foliage and flowers of trees and shrubs. Chestnut-vented Warblers are common and confident little birds usually seen singly or in pairs.

Chestnut-vented Warblers may breed at anytime of year, though there is a distinct peak in spring. Their nests are thin-walled cups of dry grass and twigs built in a tree or shrub. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2-4 eggs and feeding the hatchlings until they fledge, both stages taking around 14 days. Fully grown they measure around 15cm in length and weigh 16g.

The Chestnut-vented Warbler occurs throughout South Africa and also in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and marginally in Lesotho. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

Suni

Nesotragus moschatus

One of the smallest antelope occurring in South Africa, the Suni weighs only around 5kg and stands a measly 35cm tall at the shoulder. Only the ram carries the short horns, while the ewes are slightly more heavily built.

Sunis are very particular about their habitat, preferring dense, dry thickets in deciduous woodland and riverine forests, often on sandy soils. They are browsers, feeding selectively on nutrient-rich leaves, fruit, shoots, mushrooms and herbs.

Usually encountered singly and more infrequently in pairs or small groups, Sunis are most active from dusk to dawn and have favoured spots where they rest during the heat of the day. Rams mark their territories with their prominent pre-orbital scent glands and dung middens, and both sexes are inclined to use well-trodden paths through their home range, making them especially prone to predation and poaching.

Suni ewes give birth to single lambs, usually during the rainy season. The lambs are hidden for the first few weeks of life, with the ewe returning to them regularly through the day to nurse. The lambs are weaned when they’re 2-3 months old and sexually mature by the time they’re a year old. Their natural lifespan is estimated at 9 years maximum and usually much shorter.

While overall the IUCN lists the Suni as being of “least concern” with an estimated population of 365,000 individuals distributed along Africa’s eastern coast and adjacent interior from Kenya to South Africa, these diminutive antelope are considered to be endangered in South Africa, where they are found only in northern Kwazulu-Natal and the Pafuri and Punda Maria areas of the Kruger National Park (their numbers in Kruger were supplemented by several introductions from KZN, but confirmed sightings remain few and far between). The total population in Kwazulu-Natal is estimated at around 1,500, with the biggest single populations being the estimated 750 protected in the Tembe Elephant Park and around 360 in the uMkhuze Game Reserve. Poaching and loss of habitat are considered the major reasons for their decline in South Africa. Interestingly, burgeoning populations of elephant, nyala and large predators in conservation areas have a severely negative effect on the Suni, as they suffer heavily from predation and the larger herbivores denude the lower shrub layer so crucial to the Suni’s survival. Thankfully Sunis breed well in captivity and this offers hope for their reintroduction into areas from which they’ve disappeared locally.

Black-throated Canary

Crithagra atrogularis

The Black-throated Canary is a timid and inconspicuous seed-eating bird inhabiting open and dry grasslands and savannas, usually near a reliable source of water. They forage mainly on the ground and, in addition to seeds, will also feed on flowers, nectar and soft-bodied insects.

Black-throated Canaries may breed throughout the year, but there’s a definite peak in the summer months. While they form flocks numbering up to five few dozen when not breeding , when nesting pairs are monogamous, solitary and territorial. Their nests are cup-shaped and built of grass and fine twigs in a fork on a tree branch or at the base of a palm frond. The female takes sole responsibility for the incubation of the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 2 week period. Both parents feed the chicks, which are able to leave the nest when they’re between 2 and 3 weeks old. They are small birds; adults measure around 11cm in length and weigh only about 12g.

The Black-throated Canary is a common bird throughout most of South Africa and can be found in all our provinces with the exception of the Western Cape. Beyond our borders their distribution is very patchy but stretches as far as Gabon in the west and Uganda and Kenya in the east. The species is considered to be of least concern.

African Grass (Sooty) Blue Butterfly

Zizeeria knysna

The African Grass Blue, or Sooty Blue, Butterfly, is common and widespread in every corner of South Africa. Furthermore, they’re found throughout the rest of our continent, in Arabia, Cyprus and Spain. It occurs in every habitat, from desert to forest, and is one of the most abundant butterflies on suburban lawns, having a special fondness for open grassy areas. Adults are on the wing throughout the year and have a wingspan of only about 2-2.5cm.

Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos

The Common Sandpiper is one of the world widest-ranging bird species. Their breeding range encompasses almost all of Europe and northern Asia, stretching from Spain to the Russian Far East. During the northern winter these birds then migrate to southern climes, spanning from sub-Saharan Africa to Australia and the islands of Oceania. The IUCN considers them to be of least concern and estimate a total population of at least 2.6-million adult birds. During our summer they can be found virtually anywhere in South Africa where suitable wetland habitat is found, though much more rarely in the dry north-western parts of the country than elsewhere, with the first birds arriving in July already and most departing again by the end of April.

Common Sandpipers inhabit a very wide range of water-associated habitats, from sewerage works and farm dams to pristine wetlands and estuaries. Their diet includes invertebrates and small vertebrates, like tadpoles, and occasionally fine seeds plucked from the mud and shallow water. They’ll even pluck leeches from the backs of hippos and crocodiles! While feeding they’re usually solitary or in small groups, though larger numbers congregate to roost.

Adult Common Sandpipers have a wingspan of about 40cm, measure about 20cm in length, and weigh approximately 47g.