As we are experiencing the heat of summer, it seems fitting to draw attention to the attraction of water for birds and animals. I start in my garden then travel through my archives to a wonderful time spent – oh so long ago – in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

An Olive Thrush chooses a quiet moment to step into the shallow bird bath tucked into a shady section of the garden, where there is plenty of cover nearby to duck into should the need arise. It glances around whilst standing stock-still, as if it is assessing what dangers might be lurking around before it takes a few sips of water then splashes itself liberally in the bird bath.

Five Cape White-eyes gather for a communal drink and bathe at a different bird bath in a sunnier spot – still with plenty of cover to dive into if necessary.

This Speckled Pigeon casts a wary eye upwards before settling into the same bird bath for a drink.

Further afield, a lioness slakes her thirst at a water trough in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

So does a Gemsbok, accompanied by a trio of Cape Turtle Doves.

Lastly, a Yellow Mongoose ignores a swarm of thirsty bees to drink at a bird bath set underneath a communal tap in one of the rest camps in the Kgalagadi.



It is interesting to me the way birds ‘make space’ for each other by feeding at different times or choosing different spots as their main feeding areas. When we moved here over thirty years ago Cape Turtle Doves (Streptopelia capicola) were fairly prominent all over our garden. I was delighted as I hadn’t heard them for years and their calls remind me fondly of growing up in the Lowveld. These birds helped me to settle into what was still a strange environment in the Eastern Cape. Within a few years, however, their presence in the front garden seemed to have been ousted by the arrival of increasing numbers of Laughing Doves and, more recently, several pairs of Red-eyed Doves. The Cape Turtle Doves moved to the back garden and can still frequently be seen feeding either on the crushed seeds of the Syringa tree in the street behind our home or feasting on the fallen figs in the street running in the front. They now scratch around for food in the back garden and very occasionally mix with the aforementioned doves in the front garden and are still vocal in the trees growing in the garden.

In this pretty Boksburg garden I find a very different situation: here the Cape Turtle Doves occur in greater numbers. They feed on the seeds put out, elbowing out the Laughing Doves and apparently tolerating the larger Red-eyed Doves; they frequently use the various bird baths for drinking or bathing and come very close to the veranda to find other sources of food. This one is perched on a bird bath in the middle of this garden.

They do not drink for long and are soon on their way.

Cape Turtle Doves are abundant in this country – look at these ones flocking to a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. They are easily recognised by the half-moon collar on the nape.


There are seven different doves that grace the South African landscape. Make it nine if you include the feral populations of Rock Dove that are commonly seen in urban areas, where they feed on scraps and seeds – I find it amusing that the latter is called a Tuinduif (Garden Dove) in Afrikaans, a name which seems to imply that they are at home in our gardens. Actually these doves were introduced during the 1800s and are most likely the descendants of those early homing pigeons.

The European Turtle-Dove is such a rare vagrant that it hardly counts. Apart from them, a number of introduced birds have simply become such an accepted part of our environment that they are now included in our field guides: the Common Starling and Common Mynah spring to mind – even the Common Peacock! While I have been fortunate enough to see all the doves on our local list, I do not have photographs of them all. The African Mourning Dove is a beautiful bird which is limited to the Kruger National Park region in South Africa, although it also occurs in Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Their characteristically mournful call is beautiful to listen to.

I often mention the presence of Laughing Doves for they abound in my garden and are commonly seen all over South Africa. Their name is an apt description of their burbling calls that resonate through the gardens and the veld throughout the day.

They readily eat seeds, small snails, insects as well as termite alates – as I witnessed recently.

Only once have I seen a Lemon Dove in our garden – too far away for a photograph. They are secretive birds and this one appeared only briefly before tucking itself away behind a tangle of shrubbery. Cape Turtle-Doves on the other hand are commonly seen all over South Africa. These ones were photographed in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Their call is strident enough to be heard from some distance. I notice they prefer not to jostle with the other doves in my garden and choose to find seeds away from the crowd as it were.

Namaqua Doves are seen aplenty in that park – it is hard to believe I might not have photographed one – nor can I show you the beautiful Tambourine Dove. Instead, you will see a Red-eyed Dove of which we have at least two pairs nesting in our garden. I hear them calling from the fig tree and notice that they too prefer to look for seeds on the ground once the main rush of feeding is over in the mornings. During the rest of the day I see one or two of them foraging for seeds under the trees in the garden.


I cannot adequately convey how wonderful it is to hear the sounds of the Cape Turtle Dove in our garden at different times of the day. They used to be regular visitors to the feeders until elbowed out by the sheer number of Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons that wolf up the grain within twenty minutes of it being scattered outside. So, I hear the Cape Turtle Doves calling from the Erythrina trees in the back garden and see them pecking for food in the kitchen beds more often than they come to the front to see what the masses have left. Cape Turtle doves remind me of my childhood in the Lowveld and our visits to the Kruger National Park as well as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where this photograph was taken.

My favourite visitors are the Cape Robins that are among the first birds to greet the dawn and which come to peck at the fruit and other titbits when the garden is quiet and most of the other birds have left to seek food elsewhere.

A pair of Greyheaded Sparrows also prefer to visit the feeders after the doves and weavers have left. Some of the weavers are beginning to sport their winter tweeds, yet there are still many males looking as though they are ready to find a mate. A few males have been seen carrying strips of grass to tie onto thin branches – perhaps we need a really cold spell of weather to make them realise that there is still the winter to get through!

Of some concern is that the population of Speckled Pigeons nesting in our roof has increased to the point that they may have to be moved on and we will have to reseal the eaves. They are lovely birds to look at, however the mess they make is awful – our front steps and some of the outside walls are covered with their faeces, which cannot be a healthy situation in the long run.

Redwinged Starlings have been gathering in large flocks over the past few weeks. They fly around in flocks of between fifty and a hundred, sometimes breaking off to fly in different directions and meeting up again. They often settle in the Natal Fig, only to be frightened by loud noises from passing vehicles and a cloud of black rises up noisily to whirl about again: their reddish wings look beautiful against the light.

So do the bright red wings of the Knysna Turaco. How fortunate I was yesterday morning to watch a pair of them flitting around in the trees near to where I was sitting and then to drink from the bird bath situated only a few metres away from me!

A really interesting sight was an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) flying low over the garden before perching in the Natal Fig. It wasn’t there long before I saw it take off with a single Fork-tailed Drongo in hot pursuit. The Drongo chased it right across the garden and back before the hawk changed direction to fly further afield. I am impressed with the feistiness of the Drongo!

I have already highlighted my photographs of the Green Wood-hoopoes that visited our garden last weekend, so will end with a photograph of an Amethyst Sunbird that posed for me briefly, albeit in the shade:

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver


Cape Turtle-Doves (Streptopelia capicola) occur all over South Africa and their lovely calls bring to mind memories of my early childhood on the gold mine I grew up on, of our farm in the Lowveld, visits to the Kruger National Park and all the places I have lived in since I left home.

They are easily recognisable by the black collar on its neck, although I have never before paid them enough attention to notice the dark stripe leading from the eye to the beak.

Another collared dove in this country is the African Mourning Dove (Streptopelia decipiens) which I have added by way of contrast. This one was photographed in the Kruger National Park.