Category Archives: South African Wildlife

The inhabitants of South Africa’s wild places

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Cinnyris afer

The Greater Double-collared Sunbird occurs only in South Africa and Swaziland, inhabiting high-lying shrublands, fynbos, forest margins, riverine woodland and parks and gardens, often in hilly and mountainous terrain. They feed on nectar, juicy fruits and insects and spiders. Adults measure 14cm in length and weigh around 15g.

Thse sunbirds are usually seen singly or in pairs. Breeding in the Greater Double-collared Sunbird has been recorded throughout the year, though there’s a distinct peak in the spring and summer months. Pairs are monogamous and very defensive of the immediate vicinity of their nest. The female is responsible for constructing the oval nest in dense trees using grass and other plant material bound with spider webs, lining the inside with fur and feathers. The female is also responsible for the incubation of the clutch of 2 eggs over a 2 week period, but both parents provide food to the hatchlings in the nest. The chicks leave the nest when they’re about two weeks old and stay with their parents for only another 10 days or so afterwards. Pairs may raise up to 3 broods in a season.

The IUCN evaluates the Greater Double-collared Sunbird as being of least concern.


Common Tree Fern

Cyathea dregei

The Common Tree Fern grows in forest openings, ravines and mountain grasslands up to 2,300m above sea level in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe and northwards into equatorial Africa. It can grow to a height of around 7m, though usually only about half that, with the fronds (leaves) growing to 3m in length! The Common Tree Fern is a protected species in South Africa and, although it is a favoured though difficult to care for garden feature, plants may not be removed from the wild. They’re quite resilient in the face of fire and frost.

Cape Canary

Serinus canicollis

The Cape Canary inhabits arid scrub, fynbos, grassland, dune vegetation, agricultural fields, parks and gardens, even at high elevations. They’re usually encountered in small flocks, though these occasionally swell to number 500 or more birds, and subsist on a diet comprised chiefly of grass and weed seeds.

Breeding in the Cape Canary has been recorded throughout most of the year, with a peak in the spring and early summer. Their cup-shaped nests are built in tall trees using soft plant material. Clutches of up to 5 eggs are incubated for about two weeks, with the chicks leaving the nest when they’re about 3 weeks old. Adults measure about 12cm in length and weigh around 17g.

Naturally, the Cape Canary occurs only in the highlands on the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, in Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa (parts of all provinces except North West). Apparently they have also been introduced to Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The IUCN lists the Cape Canary as being of least concern. though trapping for the illegal caged bird trade should be of concern.

Southern Rock Agama

Agama atra

The Southern Rock Agama occurs only in South Africa (portions of every province), Lesotho and very marginally into Namibia and Botswana. They occur in a wide range of habitats, from the seashore to semi-deserts to high mountain plateaus, provided there’s rocks among which to shelter. They feed mainly on various small insects and other invertebrates. When danger threatens they’ll rely on their camouflage and if that fails they’ll race to the nearest crevice.

Southern Rock Agamas live in dense colonies in which both males and females hold territories (those of males being larger and encompassing the areas of several females). Females usually lay two clutches of between 7 and 18 eggs each in a year – one in spring and the other in late summer – in shallow holes dug in damp soil. The eggs hatch after 2-3 months. Adults grow to about 20cm in length (including the tail).

Although it is listed as being of least concern, unfortunately populations near or in our towns and cities are increasingly being threatened by domestic cats.

Levaillant’s Cisticola

Cisticola tinniens

The tiny (11g) Levaillant’s cisticola inhabits wetlands, marshes, reedbeds and open grassland with rank growth. It feeds on small invertebrates.

Levaillant’s Cisticolas are usually seen singly, in pairs or small family groups and breed throughout the year. Their nests are built of grass in the shape of a ball with a small side entrance in thick grass in or over water. Clutches contain 2-5 eggs and are incubated for 2 weeks, with the chicks fledging more or less the same length of time after hatching.

Levaillant’s Cisticola occurs patchily over east, central and southern Africa, and is considered as being of least concern by the IUCN. With the exception of the arid west of the country they are found over most of the rest of South Africa.

Rainforest Brown

Cassionympha cassius

The Rainforest Brown butterfly occurs in forests, wooded ravines and thick bush, flying low along thickly vegetated margins and paths and settling often. They’re endemic to Swaziland and South Africa and occur commonly along the southern and eastern coastline and adjacent interior as far inland as the escarpment and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces.

Larvae feed on grasses of the Juncus and Pentaschistis genuses. Adults are seen between September and May and have a wingspan of 3-4cm. The Rainforest Brown is listed as being of least concern in the South African Red Data Book.

African Olive-Pigeon

Columba arquatrix

The African Olive-Pigeon, previously known as the Rameron Pigeon, is a large, dark dove inhabiting forests, woodlands and plantations, moving around locally to wherever fruit trees are bearing. Apart from fruits and berries they’ll also consume insects encountered while foraging. Adults measure about 40cm in length and weigh around 400g.

African Olive-Pigeons are mostly found in flocks numbering between 5 and 70, though larger aggregations in the 1000’s may come together in prime feeding areas. Pairs are monogamous and probably territorial to some extent while nesting. They breed throughout the year. Clutches of one or two eggs are incubated for a period of about 3 weeks in large stick nests built high up in dense trees, with the chicks fledging about the same length of time after hatching.

The IUCN lists the African Olive-pigeon as being of least concern. Its range extends from Eritrea southwards to South Africa, though its specific habitat requirements means that it is rather patchily distributed throughout. Here in our country they’re found mainly along the southern and eastern coasts and adjacent interior, and in the temperate forests found along the escarpment. It is only in recent years that they seem to have moved into the urban “forests”of Gauteng province’s big cities boasting with well-planted gardens and parks suitable to their needs.