Chorister Robin-chats are in permanent residence in our garden, but until now we have not known where they nest.

We found out rather unfortunately. My husband was extending roofing over a patio area attached to our garden cabin, when he inadvertently disturbed a nest on an existing roofing sheet under the eaves. Assuming the nest was old, he continued to put up an additional roofing sheet, but then we noticed that a Chorister Robin-chat was watching us with rapt attention.

Parent Chorister Robin-chat, KwaZulu-Natal

We put two and two together and realised that the robin must have been in the process of completing the nest. So we left the nest under the eaves next to the new additional roofing sheet.

Though we continued to work on a fence in the vicinity, the robin, although very aware of us, calmly went to and from the nest, bringing additional nest-building material.  It is the female Chorister Robin-chat who builds the nest. While she continued to be active at the nest we could hear her mate calling loudly while concealed in a neighbouring tree. Chorister Robin-chats have a variety of calls, including an impressive repertoire of copying the calls of other species.

Breeding pair of Chorister Robin-chats in Crossberry Tree

After several days we heard the sound of baby birds in the nest and we observed both birds together as they maintained a busy schedule going to and from the nest frequently, taking turns feeding the babies

In the early morning and in the evening, the male would spend some time calling loudly. Interestingly, during this period he hardly ever copied the calls of other species unlike during the time when, unbeknown to us, the female had first started constructing the nest. At that time most evenings he would sing a playlist that including copying the calls of Crowned Eagles, Darkcapped Bulbuls, Emerald Cuckoos and others.

Parent Chorister Robin-chat with caterpillars in bill

The assemblages of invertebrate prey that the parent Chorister Robin-chats brought to the nest were sometimes elaborate – and usually still alive

Chorister Robin-Chat holding several prey items in bill to feed to nestlings

It had been fascinating to see how the birds can continue to collect prey while already holding one or two other quite sizeable creatures. Caterpillars and millipedes featured prominently on the menu

Chorister Robin-chat approaching nest in building to feed nestlings

One of the parents, with a bill full of food, perching near the nest that is under the eaves and above one of the roofing sheets

Chorister Robin-chat flying off to forage to find food to feed nestlings

The constant two-and-fro foraging must be exhausting

Parent Chorister Robin-chat with insect larvae to feed young

The parent Chorister Robin-chats glean prey in the trees and understorey vegetation. This parent appears to have scored two insect larvae

Foraging on the ground, a parent Chorister Robin-chat finding food to feed its young

Chorister Robin-chats also forage on the ground, as this parent demonstrates, as it searches to add more items to the two larvae it already holds in its bill

Parent Chorister Robin-chat calling prior to feeding babies in nest

Impressively, Chorister Robin-chats can also sing while holding prey in their bills. The female often pauses to sing softly prior to taking the food into the nest. In the early mornings the male is often calling and whistling loudly nearby

In this video, I record the Chorister Robin-chats calling, and show footage of the parents perching with prey items prior to taking them into the nest

All this activity has been going on for several weeks. We are starting to get anxious wondering when the fledglings will be able to navigate their way out of their very snug but perhaps unusually situated nest.  Apparently, Chorister Robin-chat chicks remain in the nest on average for 14 days. After that both parents may continue to feed them for up to another six weeks.

So how long have the babies been in the nest?  I first thought I heard the babies chirping in the nest 4 weeks ago, but I did not make a note as to when we first saw the parents taking food to the nest.

Pietmyvrou or Redchested-cuckoo perching in a tree in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

As Redchested-cuckoos (Piet-my-vrou) take about three weeks to fledge and there are Redchested-cuckoos very obviously around, calling loudly from nearby trees in fact, we have wondered if the parents weren’t perhaps feeding a baby cuckoo, as Redchested-cuckoos are known to parasitize Chorister Robin-chats (among others)

As we do not want to get close-up and risk disturbing the birds while they are nesting and it is too dark to see into the nest in its confined space from afar, we are not sure what is going on. But now I am starting to think I must have been mistaken when I first thought I heard baby birds in the nest.

So now we are recalculating and waiting with bated breath. We know for certain that the babies have been chirping in the nest for just over two weeks. I will keep you posted of any further developments, hoping we will be lucky enough to see the fledglings if and when they emerge from the nest.

Chorister Robin-chat showing downy feathers on back

And to close, exactly four weeks ago, I photographed one of the Chorister Robin-chats near the nest. In a series of photos I took that morning, only a few shots showed this mantle of soft orange-fringed feathers on its back that can be clearly seen in the above photo. I have not seen these feathers showing again, nor have I seen them in any other photos of Chorister Robin-chats that I can find. I can only guess that usually these soft feathers are concealed under the folded-back wings?

13 Chorister Robin-chat

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 Posted by Carol

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