In our 21 years living here we have identified over 70 species of birds visiting our garden. Now seems a good time to attempt an overview highlighting some our avian visitors, such as the chorister robin-chat (Cossypha dichroa) in the header photo.
Some of the birds identified we only see flying high – we have not seen them actually landing in the neighbourhood. These include yellow billed kites, woolly-necked storks and even fish eagles soaring far overhead, attracting our attention by their distinctive calls.
Pictured above, three woolly-necked storks (Ciconia episcopus) flying over our garden. In KwaZulu-Natal over the past couple of decades numbers of woolly-necked storks have increased as they have managed to adapt to urban environments
Some bird visitors to our garden we seldom see because they are unobtrusive and easily overlooked rather than that they are not there. Others that are seldom seen may be infrequent visitors or only passing through, and others may be altitudinal migrants and so are only seasonally present.
Bush blackcaps (Sylvia nigricapillus) are endemic to areas of eastern South Africa and western Eswatini (Swaziland). They mostly inhabit Afromontane and mistbelt forest patches and adjacent areas especially where there are Leucosidea (ouhout) and Buddleja (sagewood) thickets. Individuals that spend the summers at high altitudes may move as far as 300 km (185 miles) to spend autumn and winter in lower-lying regions.
Mostly when I have seen a bush blackcap in our garden is when one has ventured into the open to visit a birdbath to drink and bathe, as in the above photo. Unfortunately habitat loss due to developments such as commercial tree plantations means the numbers of bush blackcaps are declining and consequently the IUCN lists their status as vulnerable.
The common waxbill (Estrilda astrild) – not living up to its name – is an infrequent visitor, perhaps because our area is not well endowed with habitat requirements that include undisturbed and rank grassland or marsh vegetation and reed beds where they typically nest communally. However, one year a few birds did visit our mini-grassland over a few days.
Another grassland bird that is only an occasional visitor is the lovely swee waxbill (Coccopygia melanotis). They mostly visit in pairs but we have also had small groups visiting.
Most conspicuous amongst the insectivorous birds that visit are the fork-tailed drongos (Dicrurus ludwigii ) – noticeable as they are very energetic and vocal. Sadly they do not seem to be as numerous as they used to be. I wonder if that is as a result of what really does appear to be a decline in the number of insects around.
A very glossy fork-tailed drongo perched in our garden while it was hawking insects, showing off its red eye and forked-tail.
One way of attracting insectivorous birds to the garden is to attract insects, for example by planting flowering plants that attract butterflies and pollinating insects of various kinds. It stands to reason that if one wants to be hospitable to birds don’t use insecticides. Birds and predatory insects are effective at controlling insect numbers, and in any case insects are interesting in their own right.
Pictured above is a brown-hooded kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris) that returned to its perch on a fence with a cricket it had ambushed on the lawn. We do not use any pesticides or fertilizers on our so-called lawn, i.e. the areas that we keep mown in the wet season. (I say so-called lawn as there are many low-growing plants (weeds?) and not just grasses in the lawn!)
In addition to flowering plants, an effective way to cater for butterflies and moths is to provide larval host plants. The larvae (caterpillars) of many species of butterflies and moths feed on only a select few species of plant. There are various species of birds that feed on the caterpillars and/or on the adult butterflies and moths.
A female African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus) photographed (above) perching in a cross-berry tree (Grewia occidentalis), which is a host plant of reticulate bagnet (Anaphe reticulata) caterpillars. The cuckoo spent some time steadily feeding on caterpillars that were clustered together on a branch. These caterpillars are one of the processionary caterpillar species.
A strikingly iridescent and colourful male African emerald cuckoo was also attracted to a cross-berry tree in the garden to eat the processionary caterpillars.
Also beautiful in iridescent green are the male Klaas’s cuckoos (Chrysococcyx klaas). Like the emerald cuckoos, they are heard more often they are seen. Both species have distinctive repetitive calls.
Drab in comparison to the male cuckoos are the southern grey-headed sparrows (Passer diffuses), though they are no less interesting and lovely to have around. We have a breeding pair in our garden. One year a fledgling’s maiden flight went wrong. Eventually, with the ongoing encouragement of the parents, it managed to make its way to a tree to climb the trunk with the parents in attendance. For the full story see Bird parents to the rescue.
Southern grey-headed sparrows feed mostly on grains and seeds, but they also eat small fruits, some insects too and nectar from flowering aloes. Also primarily seed eaters are mannikins – we have both bronze and red-backed mannikins visiting. In addition to eating mostly grass seeds, like the sparrows they also eat some insects.
A small group of bronze mannikins (Lonchura cucullata) enjoyed winter foraging for seeds in the seedheads of a clump of golden bristle grass (Setaria sphacelata) that we leave to self-seed as a food source for seed-eating birds.
I am surprised that we don’t see speckled mousebirds (Colius striatus) around very often. Usually they are gregarious but even when we do see mousebirds here, there are only one or two, which is another surprise. In addition to fruits, speckled mousebirds eat leaves, seeds and nectar and occasionally insects, such as termites. In the photo below, a speckled mousebird is eating berries in a cross-berry tree. A processional caterpillar – not a menu item for mousebirds – can be seen on a stem above the bird.
The speckled mousebird is one of three species of mousebird that occurs in southern Africa. The English name may derive from their mousy colouration and the hair-like feathers on their bodies and also from the way they creep and clamber about and sometimes hang acrobatically in trees. They can feed and may even sleep hanging upside down. They roost communally, often clustering together for warmth.
A big hit with fruit-eating birds (and also fruit bats) are the small fruits of the pigeon-wood tree (Trema Orientalis). We often see African olive-pigeons (Columba arquatrix) in our trees during the fruiting season. These lovely forest pigeons were formerly known as rameron pigeons.
The extravagantly glossy red fruits of the healing-leaf tree (Solanum giganteum) are particularly enjoyed by Cape white-eyes and dark-capped bulbuls (Pycnonotus tricolor). The bulbul in the photo above paused from eating berries to stick its tongue out.
Unlike other plants in the Solanum family (which includes potatoes, tomatoes and deadly nightshade) no part of the plant has been found to be poisonous. One of its many common names – healing-leaf tree – is because the woolly under side of the leaf is used in traditional medicine for cleaning wounds, and the smooth upper side for healing wounds. Juice from the berries and the leaves is also used in healing ointments.
A predominantly fruit eating species that is resident in our area is the stunningly gorgeous purple crested turaco (Tauraco porphyreolophus). We have seen it enjoying fruits of the pigeonwood and the umdoni /waterberry (Syzigium cordatum) in our garden.
I have often featured doves, including red-eyed doves (Streptopelia semitorquata), in my posts. Just because they are common and sometimes taken for granted does not mean they are not full of surprises as I and the pair pictured above discovered.
The two doves were companionably minding their own business when suddenly a third dove flew in and landed practically on top of them. It was hard to say who was the most surprised. I certainly was!
Above is a photo of village weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) in June (when the males have non-breeding plumage) feeding on flowers of a winter-flowering krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens). The weaver in the foreground is clutching a broken-off flower in one foot. Previously I have featured village weavers engaged in their fascinating nest-building activities.
Sunbirds’ bills are adapted to probing flowers for nectar and they are known to probe fruits for juice. They also take spiders from their webs and eat some species of insects. This male greater double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris afer) pauses while nectaring at krantz aloe flowers.
I began this post with a photo of a chorister robin-chat and end with a portrait of a Cape robin-chat (Cossypha caffra). This bird approached quite close to keep an eye on me when I was weeding a flower bed. Perhaps it was hoping to find some food in the loosened soil.
Of course this post leaves out way more visiting birds than I was able to include, and I have so many favourite garden birds that even picking favourites would be too many!
Posted by Carol