Wonderful Birds of Summer

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December 30, 2013
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January 20, 2014

Wonderful Birds of Summer

Posted by: Wouter

Wonderful birds of summer

The Zululand Rhino Reserve is a natural heaven for birdwatchers. All year round you can find a large variety of unique birds that only occur in this specific area, true endemics as we call them.

But it’s only in summer when a birdwatchers heart will really start to beat faster, and right now we are in exactly this time of year! Because of the large amounts of rain we have had in November and December, life in the bush just exploded. The grass is green, the trees have leaves, the river is flowing, and insects are booming. It’s this overabundance of food and resources that causes a yearly phenomenon that is particularly interesting to observe: The breeding season.

What I find most interesting about this season is the gorgeous plumages of some of the male birds.
Amongst my personal favorites are definitely the Widowbirds and Whydahs. These birds are brown and dull looking for most of the year, male and female exactly the same. A typical LBJ (little brown job), as fanatic birders often like to call them. But in summer, the males go through a magnificent transformation. My favorite definitely is the Long-tailed paradise whydah, quite common in the reserve. From a light brown, dull looking bird it transforms into a black bird with an extremely long tail with two rounded tail feathers, and wonderful red and orange colors on the chest and shoulder. The long tail has absolutely no use at all for them, and it is actually quite a burden for them during flight. The only thing they use their tail for is displaying against other males. They perch from a branch of telephone wire, fly 20-30 meters in the sky, they start flying in circles whit their two tail feathers lifted, and then suddenly drop from the sky to sit in the exact same spot again. Usually they do this twice a day for about 20 minutes, once in the morning at about 10 o’clock, and once in the afternoon at 4 o’clock.

They definitely look quite stunning in all ways possible, but their breeding behavior is quite brutal, as these birds are so-called brood parasites. They will only lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, just like a Cuckoo. Every other species picks its own host species, and for the Paradise Whydah it is the Green-Winged Pytilia, a tiny ground-dwelling finch species. I used the word brutal because once the Whydah-chick hatches; it will either kick out all the Pytilia-eggs from the nest, or kill all the other hatchlings. The poor little finches will not notice this and raise their parasite chick with all their care.

I have never seen this happening in real life, but now is the right time of the year so I am definitely keeping my eyes open!