Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Cape White-eye

Zosterops virens

Cape White-eyes are familiar birds in many South African suburbs, where their confiding attitude and characteristic song make them a well-loved garden bird. They inhabit a wide variety of naturally woody habitats, from forests to mountain scrub, as well as plantations and orchards. They feed primarily on insects, but will include fruits, flowers and nectar in their diet.

Cape White-eyes are social little birds, weighing only about 11g and growing to 12cm in length and usually seen in pairs or small flocks. They breed throughout the year, though mostly in summer, with both pair mates constructing the small cup-shaped nest from fine materials and spider web, well hidden deep in the dense foliage of a tree or shrub. Clutches contain 2-4 eggs and are incubated by both parents for almost 2 weeks, with the chicks taking to the wing for the first time when they’re about 14 days old.

The Cape White-eye occurs widely over Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa (with the exception of the more arid parts of the Northern Cape, Free State and North West provinces), with a few scattered records from Botswana and Mozambique. The IUCN lists the Cape White-eye as being of least concern.


Southern Boubou

Laniarius ferrugineus

The shy Southern Boubou is heard far more often than it is seen and engages in a melodious duet that is often quite unique to the pair in note-combinations and pitch. They inhabit forests, thickets, dense coastal shrublands and riverine vegetation where they forage in the tangled undergrowth for insects, worms, snails, lizards, eggs, fruits, nectar and seeds. They have also adapted to well-planted gardens in some towns and cities. Adults grow to 22cm in length and weigh around 60g.

Southern Boubous are usually seen singly or in monogamous pairs that claim a small, lifelong territory for themselves. The females are responsible for building the shallow cup-shaped nest (using grass, twigs and roots) in a densely-leaved plant, but both parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 2 or 3 eggs for a little over two weeks and feeding the newly hatched chicks, which fledge at about 2 weeks old and stay with their parents for up to 3 months longer. Their breeding season spans spring and summer.

Apart from South Africa (where it is found from the Western Cape coast and adjacent interior, through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West Province) the Southern Boubou occurs only in southern Mozambique, Swaziland and a small portion of Botswana and Zimbabwe along the course of the Limpopo River. It is considered to be of least concern by the IUCN.

Cape Wagtail

Motacilla capensis

One of South Africa’s most familiar garden birds, the Cape Wagtail is usually seen in pairs of small family groups, and named for the family’s characteristic “pumping” of the tail while sitting or walking. They occupy any natural habitat that offers open ground near or adjacent to even the smallest water source (they love to bath) and have adapted superbly to farms, parks and gardens. Cape Wagtails feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, as well as human scraps in urban settings. Adults are about 20cm long and weigh around 21g.

While there is a distinct peak in breeding attempts during spring and early summer, Cape Wagtails have been recorded as breeding throughout the year. Their nests are built in trees, bushes or earthen walls, and even in man-made structures, using a wide range of plant and other materials, Monogamous pairs stay together through several successive breeding seasons, raising clutches of 1-5 chicks that hatch after an incubation period of two weeks. The chicks leave the nest at around two weeks old but only become independent of their parents about 6 weeks later.

Cape Wagtails are patchily distributed from Kenya and Uganda to southern Africa. It occurs virtually all over South Africa and is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN, having recovered from a population decline following the introduction of domestic insecticides in the 1950’s and 60’s.


Speckled Mousebird

Colius striatus

Mousebirds are a uniquely African order of six species, named for their habit of clambering around the branches of trees and shrubs in a very rodent-like manner. Speckled Mousebirds, both the largest and the most widely distributed of the family, inhabits thickets, moist savannas, woodlands and forests, and particularly the edges of these, as well as well-wooded drainage lines, exotic plantations and suburban parks and gardens in otherwise unsuitable areas (such as the grasslands of our Highveld). They feed on fruit, berries, seeds, leaves, buds, flowers and nectar. Adults are around 35cm long (their tail making up roughly half of this) and weigh about 55g.

Speckled Mousebirds congregate in small flocks of 5 to 20 birds, moving around from tree to tree one after the other, and often in association with other kinds of mousebirds. Breeding in Speckled Mousebirds have been recorded throughout the year, with a peak in spring and summer. Nests are untidy cups of grass lined with fine material built in trees or shrubs. Clutches of 1 to 7 eggs are incubated by both parents for a period of two weeks. Some males may have active nests with more than one female. Chicks start leaving the nest to clamber around the branches when they’re about 10 days old, and become independent at only three weeks of age. Breeding pairs may have as many as 6 helpers assisting to raise their latest brood.

The IUCN describes the Speckled Mousebird as common and widespread with an increasing population and distribution, listing it as being of least concern. They occur from Cameroon in the west to Ethiopia in the east and then southwards to South Africa, being absent from the equatorial forests and arid south-west of the continent. In South Africa they can be found in all our provinces, excluding the driest parts of the Free State, Northern Cape and North West Province.

Southern Tree Agama

Acanthocercus atricollis atricollis

As their name would suggest, the Southern Tree Agama is a mainly arboreal lizard, coming to ground only to move from one tree to another and to feed on ground-living insects. They inhabit open savanna landscapes, especially those dominated by thorn and miombo (Brachystegia) trees, and feed on ants, termites, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles and other invertebrates. Adults grow to between 12 and 15cm long, excluding the tail. Breeding males are very colourful and not nearly as well camouflaged as the females, non-breeding males and young.

Southern Tree Agamas are diurnal, sleeping at night in hollow trunks or under loose bark. Males are territorial and will fight each other viciously. Their breeding season spans spring and summer, when females dig a hole in moist soil in which they lay between 5 and 14 eggs that hatch in about 3 months.

The Southern Tree Agama occurs patchily from eastern Africa southwards to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.  The IUCN considers this species of least concern. In South Africa they are commonly encountered in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and nothern Kwazulu-Natal. They are very tolerant of humans and is a common sight in the rest camps of the Kruger National Park.

Red-eyed Dove

Streptopelia semitorquata

The Red-eyed Dove is a denizen of well wooded habitats (both naturally occurring and plantations), and is quite closely associated with watercourses. They are also a well-known garden bird in many of our towns and cities and have actually enlarged their distribution range in association with human settlements. They feed primarily on seeds but also takes some fruits, flowers and insects. Adults of these large doves weigh around 250g and grow to 35cm in length.

Unlike many other species of pigeons, Red-eyed Doves are not particularly gregarious and are usually seen singly or in pairs, with larger congregations of 50 to 100 birds being very rare. Pairs are monogamous and breed throughout the year. Their nests are flimsy stick platforms built in tall trees or reedbeds, and clutches usually consist of 2 eggs that are incubated for 2 weeks. The chicks leave the nest when they are around 3 weeks old.

The Red-eyed Dove occurs over most of sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the drier desert and semi-desert areas. In South Africa they are found in every province, avoiding only the driest districts of the Northern Cape. It is considered of least concern by the IUCN.

Karoo Thrush

Turdus smithi

The Karoo Thrush inhabits arid scrublands and grasslands, preferring the denser vegetation along drainage lines in these otherwise open areas. They’re also one of the most common garden birds all over their range, a fact that has aided an increase in both their range and population. Karoo Thrushes are usually seen singly or in pairs and follow an omnivorous diet, searching on the ground and scrounging through leaf litter for insects, worms, other invertebrates, small vertebrates and fruits and seeds. Adults are about 23cm long and weigh up to 86g.

At the start of the breeding season, which stretches through spring and summer, female Karoo Thrushes build cup-shaped nests of wet grass and other plant material in the forks of trees. They incubate clutches of 1-4 eggs for about two weeks, with the chicks becoming independent about 2-and-a-half months after hatching.

The Karoo Thrush occurs mainly in the central and western parts of South Africa, extending marginally into Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern. It was previously classified as a subspecies of the Olive Thrush, which is generally found in forests.