First we saw one of the handsome parents, and then we saw the long-legged fluffball: a baby spotted dikkop. How special to see the caring and attention lavished on this precious little chick.

Both parents were in attendance with one staying with the chick, often settling down onto the ground and allowing the chick to burrow into its breast feathers, while the other parent caught prey – rather successfully it seemed as it returned several time to regurgitate its catch to feed the baby.

A spotted thick-knee (dikkop) at Camdeboo National Park, South Africa

The parent bird first seen in the bright glow of the late afternoon sunshine

The previous English name, spotted dikkop, has been changed as part of a process of standardising common names for birds globally, and so it should now be called spotted thick-knee. In Afrikaans it is still known as the gewone dikkop, that is the common dikkop – literally dikkop means thick or fat head, referring to the relatively large head of this bird. Its scientific name is Burhinus capensis. Species of thick-knee birds are also known as stone-curlews.

A pair of spotted thick-knees (dikkops) with their chick, Camdeboo National Park, South Africa

Perhaps this photo conveys just how hard it was to see the well camouflaged baby bird through the skimpy dry vegetation. When the second parent approached the tiny chick stood up and showed itself – it can just be seen in the centre foreground of this photo

We saw this little family on our recent visit to the Camdeboo National Park in the Eastern Cape. We stopped the car on the side of road and sat quietly and watched the birds for about half an hour – it was definitely one of the highlights of our visit.

Spotted thick-knee 4

The one parent is settled down with the baby concealed in its breast feathers. The other parent approaches after a successful hunt ready to feed its catch to the baby

A pair of spotted thick-knee (dikkop) parents feeding their chick

The baby emerged so it could be fed. The actual feeding was done behind the parent that remained squatting on the ground with its legs folded under it. From what we could see, the parent doing the feeding regurgitated its catch for the baby

Spotted thick-knees feed mostly on insects, but also eat small animals such as small rodents, lizards, frogs and molluscs, as well as eating grass seeds. Both parents share in raising the young. There may be 1-3 eggs in a clutch, and the parents take turns incubating the eggs in a nest that is little more than a scrape in the ground, although it may be lined with twigs, leaves, feathers and other materials. The nesting site is usually near a bush but with a good all-round view. Parents vigorously protect their young and may use threat displays or give chase to intruders. They may also feign injury such as a broken wing in order to draw a predator or threat away from the eggs or the fledglings.

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) chick standing next to its parent

The youngster showing its long legs (and thick “knees”) while it stands close to its parent

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) chick enjoying the late afternoon sun with its parent

The chick seemed to enjoy the warming rays of the sun, although several times it burrowed into the safety of its parent’s breast feathers, with just its legs sticking out

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) check watched over by its parent

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) chick looking up at its parent

Is it anthropomorphic to think that a real affection is shared between baby and parent?

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) parents feeding chick

Raising one chick is hard work – how much harder when they raise two or even three? Spotted thick-knees may double-brood or even triple-brood within one breeding season

A spotted-thick-knee (dikkop) chick standing close too its parent

The birds seemed relaxed in our presence – we were a fair distance away and they were partially screened by small dry thorn bushes

Spotted thick-knees are mostly nocturnal, but they are also crepuscular – a gorgeous word meaning that they are active in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. They may also be active on overcast days.

Spotted thick-knee (dikkop) and chick in late afternoon sunshine, Camdeboo National Park

As the sun dipped lower the baby became more active, venturing further away from its parents who made an effort to keep up with it. Rather reluctantly we left them. This is our last photo of them before we drove away

Despite being on the “wrong” side of the car and the difficult light and intervening vegetation, my husband managed to shoot some video clips of the spotted thick-knee chicks and its parents

I thought that this baby bird makes a suitable emblem for the New Year that is about to fledge. Wishing you all good things for the New Year and may hope spread its wings and fly.

Posted by Carol

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