Welcome to Part 1 of my Kalahari exploration series where we explore the surroundings in which our Kalahari meerkats reside. In this episode we will gaze skywards and take a closer look at the feathered friendlies of the Kalahari. These avian action heroes can be found on the ground or sky-high above our meerkat groups and each has a lifestyle and characteristic of their own. Below are a select few that inhabit our area of the Southern Kalahari.
The Meerkat Neighbourhood: Part 1 – Non-threatening birds
Yellow-Billed Hornbill: This quirky bird often moves around in groups of 2 or more. Swooping low from tree to tree, hornbills are generally exceptionally clever and are a typical trademark bird of the African bush. Hornbills are classed as insectivorous but are opportunistic and will take whatever they can get. Their most noticeable feature is their large broad bill which almost makes them look like royalty. Their call is similar to an annoying neighbour knocking on your door: “tok tok tok tok tok tok tokatokatokatokatoka”.
Sociable Weaver: If there was ever any doubt as to which birds attended the most parties out in the Kalahari, it would undoubtedly be the sociable weaver. Natural engineers, these birds construct elaborate communal nests that can house over a hundred breeding pairs. In the mornings the birds fly out of the communal nest in waves similar to World War 2 bomber squadrons taking off from an airfield in Dover. The reason for this, however, is a very smart tactic; safety in numbers! By flying out sporadically in large groups, the birds reduce their chances of being predated upon if there is a predator waiting in ambush. Due to their social nature, their call is similar to a party shaker: “chicker-chicker”.
White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver: The only Kalahari bird that builds two separate entrances to their nests, Sparrow weavers are the mini-gladiators of the dunes. Patchy colourations bolstered by a very strong personality bring these little birds to the fore of what can only be described as ‘adventurous’ in the avian world. Sparrow-weavers also have the bragging rights of being the longest studied bird species on the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. Their call is a complicated “cheeoop-preeoo-chop” whistle.
Double-Banded Sandgrouse: These little fellows specialise in one thing: get to the waterhole and make noise. Plenty of it! Exceptionally well camouflaged, double-banded sandgrouse move around in groups of two or three and, contrary to their name, do not play in any bands. They often stay very still when danger approaches and at the last moment explode into the air with a loud “Chwee-chee-chee” call.
Namaqua (Na-ma-kwa) Sandgrouse: If sociable weavers can be likened to bombers when they leave the nest, then these guys are Spitfires while they cruise the skies. Every evening without fail, flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse start circling above the waterhole. Lower and lower they manoeuvre until they come in low and hit the brakes before landing. What’s more is that most bird books describe their call as them saying the words “Kelkie-vein” (What!?).
Blacksmith Lapwing: A serious bird with a serious expression, Blacksmith Lapwings are generally found around the waterhole and owe their name to their “tink tink tink” call which reportedly sounds like a blacksmith hammering away at a piece of iron. Admittedly, it sounds more like a child randomly tapping away at a piece of aluminium, but no matter! This is a bird with attitude! Blacksmith lapwings are always the first to raise the alarm call!
Helmeted Guineafowl: A favourite game bird of Southern Africa, the guineafowl is a mixture of black feathers with white spots, a blue face, red wattle, and a bland crest (helmet) on its head. Many, many many South Africans firmly believe that the Gods of Africa gave this low IQ bird a helmet because it keeps running in front of game drive vehicles! Usually moving around in large groups, the birds have a long call that starts out with an initial “kek-kek-kaa, kek-kek-kaa, kek-kek-kaa” and then crescendos into a loud “krrdii-krrdii krrdii-krrdii”.
African Pygmy Falcon: The smallest raptor on the African continent (no larger than your hand), this little fighter pilot moves like a cruise missile between the Camelthorns. All these little birds need is a Luke Skywalker helmet with a dark visor and they would look the part! Incredibly swift and silent, these birds mainly prey on insects, small reptiles and very small mammals such as mice. Their call is a high-pitched “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki”
Now, this is only a small sample of the myriad birds out here in the Kalahari but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that if I were to try and entirely describe the variety of species we have here, I would have to write a book! Luckily though I am no book-writer and prefer a sharp witty excursion into the blog world every now and then. The birds mentioned here are those we commonly see during our daily adventures with the meerkats during our Live broadcasts, and are all an integral part of the Kalahari ecosystem. Join e next time as we explore the hoofed inhabitants of ‘The Land of The Big Sky’.
Rob’s song for the day: Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd