Motswari Blog Volume 25 – Bird Brilliance

Often overlooked, often under-appreciated, birds really are brilliant. There are so many idiosyncrasies in individual species way beyond plumage, call and behaviour. Read on, you might learn something incredible.

Take the fork-tailed drongo for example. A rather drab looking common bird that is usually ignored because it is seen in such abundance. Not only can they create a fake alarm call to steal an easy meal, they also follow big mammals like giraffe, elephant and buffalo as they disturb insects in the ground – they swoop in to get an easy take away. Brilliant strategy! They are supremely clever, incredibly aggressive and seen regularly. Take some time to watch them in action when you’re out on drive – their aero-acrobatics in the air are a marvel to behold.

Also, on the “brilliant” list is the hamerkop. This rather strange looking brown bird makes one of the biggest nests of the bird kingdom, relative to its size. The nest is made up of thousands of sticks and can end up weighing over 50 kilos. Incredible that these nests are so strong that they can hold the weight of a man, they also get utilised by eagles and owls when the hamerkop is not in residence. They even decorate the outside of these nests with bright objects, so you could call them the bling birds!

Cuckoos are another example. This species is known as a brood parasite. What this means is that they lay their eggs in another bird’s nest, having already removed one of the original eggs and replaced it with their own. They make another bird raise their young, brilliant strategy again.

What about the crested barbet? Have you ever noticed that their call can go on and on and on? The reason it can do this is because of special breathing apparatus which allows it to carry on calling without having to stop and breathe. Only humans who perfect the art of circular breathing can compete with this little feathered magician. Known as the “punk rocker” bird by many due it’s incredibly colourful plumage and iconic “Mohican”, this bird is so much more than just colourful.

The red-crested korhaan is another bird of note. The male is known as the “suicide bird” because of its elaborate and daredevil mating display. We witness this on a regular basis in the Timbavati and it’s comical to say the least. The display is made up of the male calling and drawing attention to himself to alert females in the area he’s up for selection. Once he knows a female is looking, he will take off, as vertical as possible and then stall right at the top of his flight and close his wings to plummet to the ground, spreading his wings just before he face plants, to show the female how strong and brave he is. All being well he gets the nod from the female and his fearless display wins the day. Extraordinary!

Birds – are brilliant! Look out for these birds when you’re next in the bush, you can see all this magic for yourself.

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