Homegrown in KloofBirds that permanently nest in the Kloof area
Text Peter Spence Photographs Warwick Tarboton
In the last 8 years or so birders have enjoyed the pleasure of combining their hobby of bird-watching with a scientific venture – the so-called SABAP2 Bird Atlas Project. We call ourselves ‘Citizen Scientists’ (perhaps the capitals are a bit ostentatious). But this does give those who like to play with numbers the opportunity to come up with useful information of all kinds. (Serious ornithologists also use them).
This provides information, for example, to the tourist industry to entice customers to visit their resorts, B&Bs, chalets and camps-sites etc. How else can they quote “250 species of birds recorded here”?
Applying the same story to the Kloof area we note that 291 species have been recorded. This is an impressive number, and up there with the best of the birding areas outside reserves. But we cannot all expect to see all these species. In fact 40% of the list has only been recorded in 5% of the lists. Many of these are migrant birds, but many are real specials which are hard to find, or are out of their normal range or habitat. Has something changed? These are the birds which keep birders interested.
But what about the 6% which appear in over 90% of all lists? These are our truly resident birds, which continue to enthrall us. I have selected ten of the most familiar but different birds to comment on their nesting habits.
Nobody will be surprised that the most listed bird is the trusted lawn-keeper, the Hadeda Ibis. Isn’t it amazing how they find the noo-noos we don’t like right down their deep holes? (Hadedas do not drill the holes themselves). Grass provides feeding areas and trees provide roosting and nesting sites. The Hadeda’s southern African range has more than doubled during the last century, and it has become a garden bird in many towns. It breeds solitarily, nesting in trees. Typically the nest is a thin saucer-shaped platform, 200-450mm in dia built on a forked horizontal branch, 4-5m up. Made of twigs lined with grass, it is often so transparent that the eggs can be seen through the base. Both sexes build the nest. In contrast to their noisy behaviour, nesting birds are relatively silent. Nests are sometimes only discovered when shells of hatched eggs are found lying on the ground. Laying months are mainly Sep – Nov. Usually 3 eggs are incubated in 25 days by both sexes. Nestling/fledging period is 34 days and young are fed by both sexes.
2. Toppie (Dark-capped Bulbul)
2nd up is my favourite from childhood, the Toppie (Dark-capped Bulbul) with its cheerful call. This breeds mainly in grassland regions where there is some wooded habitat. The Toppie and its cousins are abundant in man-transformed areas throughout its range. Solitary pairs conceal their cup-shaped nests in the leafy foliage of a tree or shrub, 2-4m up. Usually long fine stems and inflorescences of dry grass make up the bulk of the nest, with coarser material curled around to form its outer bowl and finer grass ends in the lin ing. A small amount of cobweb is usually used to bind the nest to its supporting twigs. The female builds the nest without male assistance over 8-10 days. Despite being a common and conspicuous species, the nest is not easy to find. Laying is Sep – Dec with a clutch of 3 eggs and incubation takes 14 days, by female only, but the male does help with the feeding.
3. Red-eyed Dove
Third on the list, the Red-eyed Dove, is most commonly found in well-wooded suburban areas, and in other man-altered habitats. Solitary pairs usually nest well away from others at least 5m above ground. The nest is placed on a lateral branch near the outside of the tree where it is best concealed. It is built by both sexes, males mainly collecting and females constructing. The male breaks off twigs from branches rather than picking up off the ground. Laying is from Aug – Oct, but is common in all months. A clutch of 2 eggs is incubated in 15 days by both parents.
The nest of the Red-eyed Dove is identical to the one of the Laughing Dove shown here.
4. Bronze Mannikin
In contrast to all these birds, the Bronze Mannikin, 4th on the list, is tiny. It is especially common in gardens. Pairs nest solitarily or in loosely associated groups, in a tree or shrub. Nests are variable in size and shape with thick-walled ball shaped structures and an entrance on one side, using green grass inflorescences that are loosely and untidily curled round into a sphere with spiky ends protruding in all directions. Sometimes a short hood protecting the entrances is provided. Both sexes do the building. Laying of 5-6 eggs takes place in all months with peaking in KZN Nov – Feb, with 14 days incubation and then feeding by both sexes.
5. Village Weaver
Next up is the ever-busy and noisy Village Weaver – formerly the Spotted-backed Weaver. Unlike the monogamous Mannikins, the Village Weaver males are polygamous, nesting in colonies that comprise 10-300 breeding males. Usually located in large trees ranging between 3-10m above ground, commonly overhanging water, nests are suspended from outside drooping branches. If away from water they may be placed inside the canopy of a large tree, suspended in the uppermost branches. Each male occupies a small portion of the colony and builds a succession of 3-5 nests in his area, of which 1 or 2 may be occupied by females. He attempts to attract females by displaying from his nests, demolishing those that are not chosen and building new ones in their place. He also strips the foliage from all the branches around his nests. The nest is a typical weaver-type structure woven from green strips of reed, palm or grass 250-300mm long. It is thick-walled and rather coarsely woven. The ‘ceiling’ of sprigs of fine leaves is built inside the roof. When a nest is accepted by a female for breeding the male adds a short narrow tunnel to the entrance. The female lines the cup with soft grass ends or sometimes feathers. Nests are not re-used. Some colonies are located in the same place year after year, whereas others are used once and abandoned. It is commonly parasitised by the Diderik Cuckoo. Laying months are from Sep – Feb with a clutch of 2-3 eggs. Incubation is 12 days by the female only. The young are brooded by the female and fed by both sexes (er…. mostly female).
6. Cape White-eye
No 6 is another small bird, the Cape White-eye, which can be found in all wooded habitats from sea level to 2770m and is near-endemic to southern Africa. Pairs nest solitarily and well away from each other. The nest is built in the leafy foliage of a tree or bush, usually 1-3m above ground. The site used is variable from small garden shrub to the canopy of a forest tree. Nests are small, trim, deep-cupped structures built from different materials depending on area. The lining is very variable and may consist of fine grass ends, hair or plant down. (We actually collect hair from our Golden Retriever in a net bag and suspend it in a shrub in our garden where White-eyes, Southern Black Tits and Collared Sunbirds scrounge their nest lining). Nests are bound together to their supporting twigs with variable amounts of cobweb. They lay clutches of 2 eggs in Oct – Dec. Incubation, brooding and feeding is done by both parents.
7. Purple-Crested Turaco
We are really privileged to have both the Knysna and Purple-Crested Turacos (Loeries) in our forests in Kloof. The Purple-crested is our 7th most listed bird. Pairs disperse to breed, and nest solitarily. The nest is built in the upper canopy of a densely branched, well foliated, tree, commonly one entwined with creepers, and is well hidden. It is a dove-type saucer made of dry twigs, usually 4-5m above ground. Both sexes build the nest, one collecting and delivering twigs to the site, the other constructing the nest. Twigs are collected from trees and not from the ground. Monogamous, their laying months are Oct – Jan with clutches of 2-3 eggs. Incubation takes 23 days, by both sexes. Young leave the nest at 3 weeks, fly at 38 days, and are brooded and fed by both sexes.
The nest of the Purple-crested Turaco is identical to the one of the Grey Go-away-bird (Grey Loerie) shown here.
8. Black-collared Barbet
The sound of dueting Black-collared Barbets, No 8, is heard all over Kloof. They breed in a variety of wooded habitats. Pairs nest solitarily but are assisted by helpers in some cases, and their nests are usually widely separated. They nest in trees in a hole which the pair excavate for themselves – nest logs attached to trees in gardens are commonly used. Their holes are invariably excavated into dead wood, either in a dead branch of a living tree or a dead stump. The nest is typically 1-4m above ground. The entrance hole measures 35-40mm across and enters at right angles for 30-90mms before descending into a chamber, the floor of which lies 300mm below the entrance. The egg is laid on a bed of wood-chips. The holes are sometimes used for second broods and sometimes for successive years. Nest holes are also used for night-time roosts when not nesting, and are commonly taken over by other hole-nesting species. (Our nest log has been used by Black-bellied Starlings and African Hoopoes). Laying takes place in Oct-Nov with clutches of 3-4 eggs. Incubation is 18 days, by both sexes, sometimes assisted by helpers, and feeding is by both parents.
9. Fork-tailed Drongo
That defender of the weak, the Fork-tailed Drongo, is our 9th bird. Nesting in trees, both nest and site are very characteristic: the nest is a wide, shallow, open cup, typically suspended between two 30-60° – angled twigs of a horizontal, f orked branch. The fork selected is usually in a tree that has horizontal-spreading branches and placed well out from the centre of the tree. 4-6 m above ground (eucalypts much higher). Rootlets and thin pliable plant stems are the construction materials used, with coarser materials in the wall and base, and thinner pieces lining the cup, with cobwebs once again used to secure and bind the whole lot together. Pairs are secretive at the nest while breeding, but alarm vociferously when nest is threatened – mobbing much larger raptors. This behaviour is useful in locating nests. They are monogamous with both birds building the nest. Clutches of 3 eggs are laid from Sep – Nov. Incubation (16 days), brooding and feeding are undertaken by both parents.
10. Sombre Greenbul
The 10th bird, the Sombre Greenbul, is similar to its cousin, the Dark-capped Bulbul, so we will move straight on to South Africa’s favourite bird, the Cape Robin-chat.
11. Cape Robin-chat
Our 11th bird won this accolade in an on-line poll conducted by Birdlife South Africa early in 2015. It was streets ahead of its nearest rival, the Cape Parrot.
Pairs nest solitarily and are variably spaced, depending on the nature of the habitat. The sites in which it nests are diverse – a hollow on top of a broken off stump or within a tangle of caught up drift wood or, in gardens, creeper covered walls or hanging fern baskets. It is seldom higher than 1½m above the ground. The nest is cup-shaped and comprises a substantial base of coarse material, including twigs, pieces of bark, moss, grass, and leaves into which a deep cup is set. The cup is neatly lined with animal hair, rootlets, or fine shreds of grass or bark. The female builds the nests which are sometimes refurbished for a second clutch, sites being re-used very often in successive years. Monogamous, laying takes place Oct-Dec yielding clutches of 2-3 eggs. Incubation of 16 days and brooding is by the female only, but Dad does help with the feeding.
We have only begun to look here at the nesting habits of the rich variety of birds who share our home, Kloof. Perhaps this will whet your appetites to spend more time watching and observing these beautiful co-habitants of our home.
About the author
Peter Spence joins our regular writing panel taking over from Dave Bishop.
Peter was born and raised in the sub-tropical haven of the then Lourenço Marques, now Maputo but was schooled in KZN. With a Mechanical Engineering degree from Cambridge he focused on his engineering career until moving to Durban in the mid 70’s and immediately developed an interest in birds. He has travelled extensively throughout southern Africa on birding holidays which helped him reach his target of 700 bird sightings. More recently he has turned his focus to bird atlasing and is a valuable contributor to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project. He is also a one of the organisers of the Krantzkloof Bird Club.