I am used to seeing Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) where I live – usually in the company of cattle and, in the nearby national parks, in the company of animals such as buffalo and herds of zebra.
Sometimes one sees these birds congregating around water sources such as dams or on the edges of a farm reservoir. These ones are at the Hapoor Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park.
As Cattle Egrets usually forage in flocks in association with grazing animals, there is obviously a symbiotic relationship between them. Although I have occasionally seen an egret pecking at ticks on the tip of a cow’s tail, the main benefit for the birds is being able to catch the insects flushed by their four-legged companions when on the move. They chase down and stab their prey, which mostly includes insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and flies, although they have also been recorded as eating frogs, ticks, spiders, beetles, locusts, and moths. This one is striding through the vegetation to flush its food.
Adult Cattle Egrets have buff plumes on their crown, mantle and breast. These buff areas increase during their breeding season.
I found it very interesting to observe large flocks of Cattle Egrets busily working their way through the very dry veld in the West Coast National Park recently, with nary a large animal in sight.
They tend to roost – and nest – in high trees. There are a few tall trees in our town that are utilized for this purpose.
The Addo Elephant National Park is a delightful place for watching birds. This Bokmakierie was perched close to the road.
I often hear them, yet rarely see them in my garden so am always pleased to find them here.
Red-necked spurfowl have been visiting my garden regularly over the past few weeks to peck at the seed spilled on the ground below the feeders. Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park provides wonderful opportunities to see them really close up.
Given the various groups of donkeys and the Urban Herd of cattle that roam around our town, cattle egrets are a common sight as they keep these animals company. It is refreshing to see a flock of them gathered at the edge of a waterhole.
This lone Egyptian goose was actually on its way to join a few others grazing nearby. I occasionally see these birds on the edge of town too.
The sound of Cape turtle doves – called Ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola) – filter through our suburb daily. Strangely enough, I seldom see them in my front garden as they seem to prefer the area behind our home. This one is looking for seeds in the veld in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Over the years the number of cattle making up what I call the Urban Herd has increased; they have split into several herds; sometimes wander off on their own or in smaller groups … one always has to be on the lookout for them. Looking further afield, one place where one wouldn’t usually expect to see a cow is on the beach – like this one in the Transkei:
A more usual place would be on a cattle farm, where this Bonsmara is eating grass whilst staring at me through the fence:
Closer to home, on the industrial road that bypasses the town, are these two calves apparently waiting for attention outside the Stock Theft Unit:
Next to the road leading into town from the industrial road and from the interior is the Bell Cow accompanied by Cattle Egrets. This is the only local cow we have seen here with a bell around its neck – hence its name – and we could often hear her at night. She has not been observed since 2019:
This cow appears to be engaged in conversation with a Cattle Egret whilst lying down in Currie Park – one of several parks in town that are no longer mowed by the municipality, presumably so that there will be grazing for whoever owns the cattle. Perhaps this is what the dispute is about:
Lastly, while driving up George Street, which will take one out of town on the other side, are two cows wandering down – perhaps to make a closer acquaintance with the diverse pleasures of urban hedges and unmown grass verges:
The Urban Herd is alive and well – and expanding rapidly!
We have got to know various members of the Urban Herd quite well over the years and have even named the more familiar among them. Before I return to them let me introduce you to an interesting South African breed of cattle called Bonsmara. Here are a few on a cattle farm in the Lothians area.
These reddish-looking cattle are the result of an extensive scientific breeding programme conducted by Professor Jan Bonsma from the Department of Agriculture to produce cattle that are well adapted to a sub-tropical climate; that will calve every year; and will produce good quality beef. The name is a combination of the name of the professor and ‘Mara’, the experimental farm on which they were bred. They animals have the attributes of both Bos indicus and Bos Taurus. Why this should make any difference I don’t know, but in order to conform to breed standards these cattle have to be de-horned!
Back to the Urban Herd. Look at the lovely shape of the horns on a cow we call The Master Hooter.
There are some interesting aspects about her, one of which you may have noticed is that, apart from an identifying notch in her ear, there is also a hole. Perhaps too many other cows have simple notches, although the pattern on the hide of this one is distinctive.
The other is that at some stage she lost the tuft at the end of her tail. The Urban Herd wander all over town and beyond, so who knows – it may have been grabbed by a dog or caught in a fence …
At this stage she and her companions are grazing along the road of our ‘industrial area’ on the edge of town. Behind her is a calf, sired no doubt by the Arctic Bull – who has sowed his wild oats across many of the Urban Herd cows!
Wait! Did you spot something interesting on the back of that calf? It looks equally interested and I felt ecstatic:
Red-billed Oxpeckers! How very exciting it is to spot these so close to home!
Cattle Egrets are the more usual companions of the Urban Herd, wherever they happen to wander.