A number of South African birds sport long tails. Only four of them will feature today. Some gardens host a resident Pintailed Whydah (Vidua macroura). At the start of spring the males gradually slough their winter tweedy feathers to don their black and white ‘tuxedo’ look, complete with long tail feathers which can grow up to 20cm in length. They are aggressive little birds that will readily chase larger birds, such as pigeons or doves, from food sources within what they have claimed as their territory. People either love them or hate them, but I have found that other garden birds soon get used to their aggressive behaviour and feed quite happily while the male is chasing after one or other of his harem.
Another common garden bird with a long tail is the Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus). They cover a large range within sub-Saharan Africa and one seldom sees them on their own for they are sociable birds, as you can see in the photograph below. They even roost pressed closely together! It amusing to watch them move from one part of the garden to another, for their flight is far from graceful and it often appears as if they have crash-landed in the next tree.
While it occurs elsewhere in Africa, the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata) only occurs in the northern part of this country – a truly beautiful bird that is fairly commonly observed in the Kruger National Park. These birds are territorial and so, when one drives along the roads in the park, one can see them spaced out across the veld – often perched on a tree stump or the top of a low bush from where they can keep an eye on their territory. Their tails are long and forked.
Lastly, what used to be called a Grey Lourie and is now been saddled with the awkward name of Grey Go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor), also occurs mainly in the northern parts of the country and is also commonly seen in gardens in Gauteng. Its shaggy-looking crest can be raised or flattened. Like the Speckled Mousebird, these birds do not seem to be particularly adept at flying and can often be seen climbing up tree branches.