Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird

Pogoniulus bilineatus

The Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird is a denizen of densely vegetated woodlands and forests, where it feeds on fruits (especially of wild figs) and berries, and occasionally the odd insect, in the middle to upper stories. Its call is an often-heard sound of the dense habitats it frequents. Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds are usually encountered singly or in pairs and breed throughout the year with a peak in the summer months, excavating nesting holes in the underside of a dead branch or stump. Clutches usually number between 2 and 5 (usually 3) eggs, incubated by both parents for about 2 weeks. The chicks leave the nest at about 3 weeks old. Adults measure only about 11cm in length and weigh a mere 15g or so.

The Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird is considered of least concern by the IUCN. It occurs in the forests of West and Central Africa, through the wetter parts of East Africa and along the Indian Ocean coast to South Africa, where it is found along the coast and adjacent hinterland of Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld and Escarpment of Mpumalanga.

Velvet Ant

Mutillidae

There are several species of “Velvet Ant” (family Mutillidae) wasps in South Africa. If you’ve had a run-in with the female of this solitary wasp, like I have, you’d definitely agree that their sting is among the most painful of any insects, although not considered particularly toxic. Females are flightless and mimics foraging ants while the winged males on the other hand frequent flowers, and are stingless. They deposit their eggs on the larvae or pupa of other wasps and bees, on which their own young then feed and grow.

Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow

Gymnoris superciliaris

Yellow-throated Bush Sparrows (previously known as the Yellow-throated Petronia) inhabit dry woodland, savannas and riverine thickets with a sparse grass covering. They are usually encountered singly or in monogamous, fairly permanent pairs, often in the company of other seed-eating birds. Aside from seeds, which form their staple diet, these sparrow-like birds also consumes invertebrates and nectar, and will forage both on the ground and along large branches.

They sleep and breed in holes in trees, often using old woodpecker or barbet nests for the purpose. Their breeding season spans all of the spring and summer months, with the female being responsible for the incubation of the eggs. Adults grow to 16cm in length with a weight of around 24g.

The IUCN considers the Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow to be of least concern. In South Africa they can be found in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West Province, while they’re also widely distributed over much of the rest of Africa south of the Equator.

Brown-veined White

Belenois aurota

The Brown-veined White could probably be South Africa’s most commonly seen butterfly, occurring throughout the year and migrating in their millions between December and February away from areas of overcrowding in the arid west towards the Mozambique Channel, laying batches of around 20 eggs at their point of departure and along the way as they go. The Shepherd’s Tree is the preferred larval food plant for this species here in South Africa, but they are also found over most of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and across Arabia and the Indian subcontinent where other members of the Caper plant-family would be important food sources. Adults, with a wingspan of about 4.5cm, feed on nectar and, while they are strong fliers, often pause at wet soil and mud for a drink.

White-crowned Lapwing

Vanellus albiceps

White-crowned Lapwings are usually seen on the sandy or muddy banks and islands of large rivers and other natural waterbodies, searching for invertebrates and occasionally small frogs and fish to feed on. Adults weigh approximately 190g and measure around 30cm in length.

Outside of the breeding season White-crowned Lapwings congregate in groups of up to 30, though more usually numbering 6-12, but during the dry-season breeding period they are to be found in highly territorial pairs.  The nest is a scrape or the footprint of a large mammal in the sand, vigorously defended against any bird or animal that ventures too close. Clutches consist of 2 or 3 eggs.

In South Africa the White-crowned Lapwing occurs only in the Lowveld and Limpopo Valley and is considered rare and threatened by diminishing river flows – there’s only about 90 pairs in total along the Limpopo, Luvuvhu, Olifants and Sabie Rivers in the Kruger National Park. North of our borders they are found patchily in parts of southern and eastern Africa, with the majority of the population occurring in central and west Africa. It is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN.

Red Toad

Schismaderma carens

While naturally occurring in savanna and woodland habitats and breeding in deep, permanent pools of water, the Red Toad is often found close to human habitations, no doubt finding the bounty of insects attracted by outside lighting very attractive. Being rather large amphibians at about 10cm in length, they’re surprisingly adept at climbing and will even shelter under the roofs of houses. They are active by night and sometimes during the day, especially in overcast conditions.

Females may lay as many as 20,000 eggs while mating, which takes place after good rains have fallen between September and March. The tadpoles’ metamorphosis is complete by the time they’re two months old.

In South Africa, Red Toads are to be found in the provinces of Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North-West, and north of our borders they occur into Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and the southern DRC. The IUCN lists the Red Toad as being of least concern.

Purple-crested Turaco

Gallirex porphyreolophus

The Purple-crested Turaco is a bird of forests and dense woodland, where they subsist on a diet of fruit, berries and buds foraged high up in the tree tops. They’re also increasingly being seen in well planted suburban parks and gardens within their range. They are rather large birds, weighing around 300g and measuring about 42cm long, and despite this moves very nimbly through the forest canopy. Though not necessarily shy and retiring birds they are usually rather difficult to discern in the darkness of their preferred habitat, and their characteristically turaco call is often the first indication of their presence in an area.

Normally seen singly or in pairs, and only occasionally in groups of up to six, adult Purple-crested Turacos form monogamous, territorial pairs. They build flimsy platform-nests using twigs and sticks, laying clutches of 2-4 eggs in spring and summer. Both parents incubate the eggs over a 3 week period and both bring food to the chicks, which fledge at about 5 to 6 weeks of age.

The Purple-crested Turaco is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN though loss of habitat may be causing a decline in their numbers. They occur from Uganda and Kenya, through Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to South Africa (Escarpment and Lowveld of Limpopo and Mpumalanga as well as Kwazulu-Natal) and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), of which it is the national bird.