White-winged Tern (R339)

The smallest fresh-water tern in the region. A common non-breeding Palaearctic migrant from central Europe and east to China. It is likely that a large proportion of southern African birds come from central Asia. The main migration route into Africa follows the Nile River Valley, reaching South Africa during September.

In South Africa they appear in their non-breeding plumage. In south Africa the head is predominantly white, sometimes with a black streak extending from behind the eyes over the crown, separated from grey mantle by a white collar. Rump, upper tail coverts and tail pale grey. Upper wing pale grey, flight feathers silvery grey. Underparts white, bill black, legs dark red, tinged black. At their European breeding grounds the breeding male birds have the head, nape, mantle and back glossy black. Rump and upper tail coverts and tail white. The bill is dark red to black, eyes dark brown with legs and feet deep red to orange-red. Adult breeding female as the male but black coloration duller, with a grey tail.

Immature birds duller grey plumage. Bill blackish-brown, base pale reddish to yellowish, legs red to orange-grey.

The White-winged Tern is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa away from large deserts and forested regions. Widespread in South Africa, populations centred in eastern half of our region, avoiding the dry west. Inhabiting large inland wetlands, including ephemeral water bodies. Regularly at artificial water bodies, including sewerage works and saltpans. Less common at coastal wetlands and estuaries. Uncommon on the coast, forages over several terrestrial habitats, including valley bushveld and agricultural land.

Roosts communally on low, bare, muddy or sandy islets with a shallow covering of water, often in company of other terns and waders. When not foraging rests on floating rafts of Kariba weed.

Usually forages in flocks over fresh or brackish water, targeting dense concentrations of prey. Regularly forages away from water, over crops, scrubland and thickets. Forages exclusively by day under natural conditions. Forages on the wing, pursuing aerial invertebrates. Also plunge dive for fish. Hunts crabs by walking on mud.

Breeding extralimital.

They are purely summer visitors, returning to their breeding grounds by mid March to April.

Lemon Dove (R360)

This is a dove occurring in the understorey of lowland and afromontane evergreen forest. In Africa they are distributed from Cameroon, east to southern Sudan and Ethiopia, south through east Africa to South Africa. In southern Africa, in eastern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, eastern Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, over most of Kwa-Zulu Natal, south and west through Eastern and Western Cape to Cape Peninsula.
They are locally fairly common. The Lemon Dove is a plump, medium sized dove of the forest floor. They occur from sea level up to 2,000 m in afromontane evergreen forests, also occupying alien Pine and Oak plantations in the Western Cape.
Sexes are alike, the female slightly duller in colouration. The pale creamy coloured face distinctive. The neck, nape and hind neck pinkish rufous, mantle with iridescent feathers that appear mauve-pink or bronze-green, depending on light. Remainder of upper parts dark olive-brown to greenish black. Throat whitish or greyish white, fore neck and upper breast pinkish-rufous. Remainder of under parts rufous to rich cinnamon, with undertail coverts dark chestnut. Bill blackish, eyes reddish to dusky brown. Legs and feet purplish pink to red. In flight they appear all dark.
They are fairly common residents of forest floor and understorey, rather secretive and easily overlooked. When disturbed, flies up suddenly to a low branch, or dropping into dense cover after short  flight. They are usually solitary or in pairs. Drinks regularly at forest streams, more frequently in the afternoon than at dawn.
They eat seeds and fallen fruit mostly picked up from the forest floor. forages among leaf litter on forest floor, sometimes in deep shade beneath dense undergrowth. Pulls up and eats small tubers of ground orchids. Particularly fond of fallen fruits of Yellow-woods. They also eat invertebrates, including termites and predatory snails.
Their call is a deep resonant “ woo-oop, woo-oop, woo-oop-poopoopoopoo “, each note rising slightly in pitch at end.
They breed from July to December. The birds are monogamous, solitary nesters and territorial. Their nest, built by both sexes, is a flat platform of twigs and rootlets or pine needles. The nest is placed on debris in a tree fork, usually not more than 2.5 m above ground, usually in deep shade.
One to three, long oval cream to buff eggs are laid at one day intervals. The incubation period is 16 days by the female only. The nestling period is 20 days. Newly hatched young fed by brooding adult every 10 to 20 minutes, by convulsive regurgitation. Because of their secretive behaviour it is not clear whether both adults feed the young. Young remain with the adults for at least 2 months after fledging.
They are not threatened, although reduction in area of forest patches and increasing utilisation of understorey trees for medicinal uses are cause for concern.

Burchell’s Sandgrouse (R345)

The white-spotted, cinnamon breast and belly, combined with the white spotted back and wings render this small sandgrouse unmistakable. Their pinkish-cinnamon breast and white-spotted, brownish yellow back offer ideal camouflage in the red sandy Kalahari landscape. The male differ very little in appearance from the female.
In the adult male the face and supercilium pale blue-grey, chin and upper throat the same pale blue-grey, with the bare skin around the eye a bright yellow. The pale blue-grey markings in the adult female replaced by a deep yellowish buff colour. These markings differentiate the sexes, rest of the plumage almost identical. Feathers of the upper parts olive brown to orange yellow with white spots. Crown and and nape dark olive-brown, feathers edged with buffy ochre, giving streaked effect. Tail dark grey, tipped white. Breast cinnamon spotted white, belly greyish rust. Bill blackish, eyes dark brown. Legs and feet yellowish pink.
Their distribution in southern Africa are near endemic, extending marginally into south eastern Angola. Their southern African range centred on the sandy soils of the Kalahari basin. They are largely confined to red Kalahari sands with good cover of grass 30 to 50 cm tall, often mixed with shrubs.
Their call is a mellow, staccato, two syllabled “ chok-lit“ flight call, the second note slightly higher than the first. On the ground, a rapid, cheeping “ ch-pt, ch-pt-pt “. On take off, gives a rapid “ wok-wok-wok-wok-wok “, until fully airborne, when switches to flight call.
The Burchell’s Sandgrouse is secretive and seldom seen away from water holes. When disturbed, either crouches before flying at close quarters, with their relative long legs can run fast in hunched posture, disappearing in grass. Usually found in pairs or loose groups. Flies up to 80 km to nearest water holes to drink in the mornings 2 to 3 hours after sunrise. Birds may circle a water hole several times before landing at water’s edge , or directly on water surface, where they drink quickly and then depart immediately. Over 4,000 birds observed at one water hole during a morning period.
Forages in pairs or small flocks during the day. Feeds mainly on seeds of annual or weedy plants, with a preference for legumes.
They are monogamous and solitary nesters, breeding in the dry winter months, April to October. Their nest is a shallow scrape in the sandy soil, sparsely lined with dry plant material, usually placed next to a grass tuft or shrub. The usual clutch is three elliptical, pale cream to olive-cream eggs, blotched with dark olive-brown or greyish mauve. There is no data on the incubation period or on the care for the young, both adults accompany chicks when they leave the nest.
The Burchell’s Sandgrouse are very fast flyers, the male birds carry water from water holes, in their breast feathers to their chicks 80 km away. They are not threatened , has undoubtedly benefitted from sinking of boreholes by stock farmers.
Falls prey to Lanner and Peregrine falcons, especially when drinking at water holes.

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark (R515)

This sparrow lark derives it name in having a chestnut back and forewings with a wholly black crown. The female differs in having mottled buff and brown above, and has black lower breast and belly, with a faint whitish collar on hind neck. In the male bird the mantle and back is chestnut, head black with large white ear patch and narrow white nuchal collar. In flight the pale rump is visible. In both sexes the thighs, flanks and undertail white. The heavy bill is pale horn to white, eyes brown, legs and feet horn to greyish flesh.
In the rural areas this lark is fairly common along road edges and cultivated lands, occurs in the northern and eastern thornveld, sparsely grassed parts and lightly wooded areas. In these areas they are fairly common but nomadic resident, usually in flocks, sometimes mixed with Grey-backed Sparrow-larks. Often found in recently burnt areas to glean insects disturbed after a fire. Their numbers fluctuate greatly from time to time.
In many areas resident, partly migrant and nomad, movements poorly understood.
Its call is a short “ Chip-chwep “, uttered in flight.
Their diet consists of seeds and insects, often visits water to drink.
They occur in pairs when breeding, otherwise gregarious in flocks of up to 50 birds. They have the habit of running on the ground while foraging, often with an erect posture observing the vicinity. Their flight is low and jinking, lands suddenly. Rarely perches in trees.
Their breeding season is from February to July in South Africa, irregular opportunistic after rain, normally towards the end of the rains. They are monogamous, the female lays 1 to 3 eggs in a cup of grass built in a hollow in the ground, usually facing south or east for shade, against a tussock or small bush. The nest is built by both sexes, the female continues to add dry grass and rootlets after eggs are laid. The eggs are greyish white, freckled with brown. The incubation period is 11 days by both sexes. Nest relief every half hour to three hours by day, female only at night.
The chicks are fed by both male and female with each doing approximately the same amount of work. Interesting the main food supply are insects, particularly small grasshoppers, with their back legs and wings removed, so that the food is quite soft. They also feed seeds by regurgitation. The chicks are led from the nest by adults after 12 days, when primaries only half grown. Fledging period not known.
The Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark is not threatened, well represented in protected areas, and has adapted well to some agricultural landscapes.

Grey-headed Gull (R315)

The name is derived from the fact that during the breading season the whole head is grey, bordered by a thin black line, when not breeding the head is white but can then be identified by the red bill with blackish tip and dull red legs. Sexes alike.

This is a medium sized gull with pale grey back and upper wings. Breeding adults has diagnostic pale grey head, bright red bill and legs. Non-breeding adults has largely white head with grey smudges above eyes and on cheeks, with bill and legs duller. Remainder of upper and underparts white. In fresh breeding dress this is a very handsome gull and added to its grey head red bill and legs the eye is yellowish-white surrounded by a bright red eye ring. The young go through a series of plumages prior to assuming that of adult at about two to three years.

This gull occurs at suitable inland and coastal sites throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. They are distributed throughout South Africa avoiding the dry western parts. They also breed in our region except Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. It is steadily becoming a human commensal in our region, with the largest concentrations now occurring in the vicinity of larger towns and cities. Here they may breed on man made dams and pans and may feed at rubbish dumps and roadhouses.

It is a fresh water gull found on large lakes and dams. Although fairly regularly seen in the south western Cape, it remains an uncommon visitor from the north. A bird ringed in Gauteng has been recovered at Gordon’s bay. A single pair has been recorded breeding on Robben Island.

As a very gregarious species they gather, both to feed during the day and to roost communally at night. Normally joins gull roosts but also tern roosts, especially Swift Tern. They are also colonial breeders, such colonies form at larger dams and lakes when water levels are low. This happens at Lake Kariba and the Manyane Lakes in Zimbabwe. At the coast they breed alongside Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, as well as Swift Terns. Occasionally hybridises with Hartlaub’s Gull, particularly on the South African west and Namibian coast lines.

They are very noisy with a harsh repeated raucous “ kaaaa “, staccato “ ka-ka-ka-ka “ or “ krupp “ call, particularly during aggressive encounters.

Highly gregarious along our coast line, costal islands, estuaries, lagoons and harbours, also inland waters including fresh and alkaline lakes, large rivers and sewage ponds.

The Grey-headed Gull feeds on aquatic invertebrates, insects, frogs and fish, eggs and chicks of other birds. Scavenges at rubbish dumps and picnic sites. Offal also taken where available. At times runs readily through shallow water, ploughing with lower mandible like skimmer. May feed on human faeces, thereby dispersing ‘Schistosoma mansoni’, the parasite causing bilharziasis.

They are monogamous and breed in large colonies, mainly from May to July, February in KwaZulu Natal. Kleptoparasitises cormorants and terns. Their nest is a shallow bowl of grass, weeds and twigs, often next to tuft of grass. May use old Red-knobbed Coot nest. A clutch is usually three pale blue-green, pale olive or rich brown eggs, spotted and blotched with brown and grey. Incubation by both sexes, period unrecorded. Young runs freely within one day of hatching, hide in vegetation in response to parental alarm calls, at ten days rather runs than hides. Also plunges into water, swims well, flying age unrecorded.

The majority of birds both adult and young remain in the general vicinity of the breeding area, a partial migration between Gauteng and the KwaZulu Natal coast is suspected. In response to human provision of both food and breeding sites, this species has probably increased substantially in numbers and probably range, over the last century.

Eurasian Hobby (R173)

In flight, the long, pointed wings and relatively short tail give this falcon a swift-like appearance. It is a smallish falcon, upperparts dark slate, forehead white, crown and nape black. Very pronounced black malar stripe with a less pronounced notch behind eye, forming ear stripe, white eye brow. Much of cheeks and sides of neck white. Mantle to upper tail coverts dark bluish grey. Underwing buff with heavy blackish barring or spotting, flight feathers tipped dark grey. Vent and thighs rich rufous, undertail buff with narrow grey bars, broad grey sub terminal band and whitish tip.The dark grey bill is black tipped, cere yellow. The eyes are dark brown with a yellow to orange eye ring. Legs and feet yellow.
Sexes alike.
The juveniles lacks the rufous vent and leggings of the adult, also washed creamy-buff below. The back and crown feathers has pale fringes, which appear scaled at close range.
They are uncommon summer visitors from the Palearctic, present in southern Africa from November to March. They enter Africa over the Mediterranean and Suez, travels south following rain fronts. They migrate from Eurasia, eastern China and Japan, breeding extralimital in those regions and also in north west Africa. Migrating south to spend the Southern Hemisphere summer in southern Africa. In South Africa they are found in the northern and eastern parts, extending south along the eastern and southern coastal strip, all the way to South Western Cape.
Satellite telemetry has shown that a central European bird, monitored through two complete migration cycles, travelled over 10,000 km south into southern  Africa                                                                                    
In southern Africa they are found in broad-leaved woodland and savanna, avoiding dense forests and both semi and desert regions. Whilst in this southern African region they are silent. Roosts in tall leafy trees in the middle of the day, hunts mainly at dusk or early morning. They only feed on the wing, taking a large variety of airborne prey. Their diet consists of large insects, insectivorous bats, and small birds such as swifts and swallows.
Hunts singly or in small flocks at the emergence of flying insects, such as termite elates. They fly rapidly and with agility in pursuit of flying prey, more leisurely with much gliding when catching flying termites, which are seized with their feet, transferring them to the bill in flight. Often hunts at Red-billed Quelea outbreaks or big roosts of Barn Swallow.

Caspian Tern (R322)

The international heavyweight of the tern world, by far the largest in the tern family. This tern has a black cap in breeding plumage, loses black cap in non-breeding season, crown becoming streaked. Easily identified by the large dagger-like bright red bill with black tip.Sexes alike in plumage coloration, female slightly smaller than male.

In the adult bird, the frons, forehead, crown and nape black, forming black cap, crown feathers elongated forming slight crest. Remainder of head and neck white. The scapulars and back pale grey, rump and tail white. Wings uniform pale grey with distinct white trailing edge, outer primaries darker to form a dusky wedge. Underwing white with diagnostic blackish grey outer primaries, under parts white. the eyes reddish brown to dark brown, legs and feet black, soles orange to pink.

They occur along the entire coast line of southern Africa, where they are found on islands, in bays, estuaries and lagoons along the coast, occasionally on inland waters and large rivers. Around the coast they are fairly common resident at large sheltered coastal waters, uncommon inland.

Their voice is a loud harsh, grating “ kraaaak “, call.

They are distributed world wide, but absent from South America and Antarctic. Apart from around our entire coast line, inland mainly in Botswana and large open shallow dams on grasslands. Total southern African population estimated at 1,500 birds. Largest population at Lake St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal. Probably resident, but with complex movements not fully understood, presumably in response to high water levels.

The diet of the Caspian Tern consists of fish only. Most foraging takes place in estuaries and lagoons, in clear shallow waters, where mullet are the favourite prey. Hunts with bill pointing downwards, 3 to 10 m above water, within 3 to 100 m of shore. Feeds throughout the day, most active in morning. When fish is spotted they pause, hovers, flexing wings inward and dives head first into water. Fish swallowed head first on the wing.

They are usually solitary, small family groups may persist for up to 8 months, congregates at nocturnal roost sites. Rarely alights on water, recorded drinking by ‘skimming’ water like of a skimmer, also does this to clean bill.

Usually breeds in small colonies, sometimes with other water birds. Little known on their breeding in southern Africa, most data from Europe and Australia. Monogamous, pair bond persisting from year to year. In southern Africa they breed from December to June, in the Western Cape October to January. Most birds arrive at breeding colony already paired. The nest is a shallow scrape in ground, by both sexes, lined with some dried vegetation.  A clutch is usually two eggs, smooth and slightly glossy, greenish to pale turquoise or green, spotted and heavily blotched dark brown, purplish and mauve.

The incubation is 23 days by both sexes, mostly female.Young fed by both adults, whole fish head first. Fledging period 35 days, partly dependent on parental feeding up to 8 months. Young accompany adults on fishing trips from one week after fledging.

In South Africa previously classified as rare, more recently as near-threatened.


Crested Francolin (R189)

The Crested Francolin is distinguished from other francolins by the white stripes on their head, and by holding tail cocked at 45 Degree angle, imparting a bantam-like appearance. The dark cap contrasts with broad white superciliam and narrow blackish eye stripe, neck and breast spotted white. Upper parts cinnamon brown with white shafts and shaft streaks, creating distinctive striped appearance. Remainder of underparts sandy buff with triangular  dark brown vermiculations, fading on vent to uniform pinkish. Bill dark grey, eyes brown, legs and feet purplish red with long upward curving tarsal spurs.

The female less boldly marked than male.

Their African distribution stretches from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia south through Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Angola to South Africa. In South Africa across the bushveld to the lowveld of north and east and eastern regions including Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal. Their favourite habitat is thornveld, acacia bushveld and broad-leaved woodlands.

In these areas they are fairly common, found singly or in coveys of up to 7 birds, usually 5, probably comprising a breeding pair and offspring from previous breeding season. They fall prey to Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Hawk- and Martial Eagle, also to the smaller Peregrine and Lanner Falcons.

They are sedentary in these areas, no evidence of seasonal movements. Roost in trees and struts on open ground like a spurfowl. In heat of day, pairs and coveys retire to dense undergrowth, where they scratch noisily in leaf litter for food. When disturbed, runs rather than flies, scampering into cover of dense vegetation.

Their call is a rattling “ chee-chakia, chee-shakia “ by birds calling  in duet, mostly in the early morning and less so at sunset.

Their diet varies seasonally. During winter they feed primarily on underground corms and bulbs, also green shoots and leaves, as well as fruits and berries. Summer diet predominantly insectivorous, also scratches out  seeds from droppings of large herbivores, and feeds on insects and invertebrates found underneath droppings.

They breed in South Africa from October to March, coinciding with rains. Crested Francolins are monogamous and solitary nesters. Pairs remain together for up to ten months of the year. Male courtship-feeds the female, catches insects and dropping them at her feet, uttering a soft whistle.

The nest is a scrape in the ground, lined with grass and leaves, usually in rank grass or under a thorny shrub. A clutch consists of 3 to 7 eggs. The eggs are unmarked cream or pinkish. Incubation by the female only starts after clutch completion. The male guards the nesting area and gives warning call to female if danger threatens. Incubation period is 20 days. Chicks leave the nest 2 hours after hatching, cared for by both adults. Young flies short distances at 6 weeks, fully fledged at 8 weeks.

The only potential threat that may cause populations to decline is the clearing of bush for domestic fuel, agriculture and grazing.