Symbiosis is an interesting word meaning ‘living together’ which derives from the Greek syn = together and biono = living. It is frequently used in the form of symbiotic relationships between plants / animals / birds. A very common example of a symbiotic relationship between birds and animals is the presence of Cattle Egrets that follow close in the wake of grazing cattle.

They are also often seen in the company of buffalo or zebra.

What these birds are doing is catching insects that are disturbed by the movements of the grazing animals. This is a type of commensalism whereby the birds benefit enormously from the animals, although what the latter get out of the relationship is uncertain – unless the birds act as a warning system perhaps.

I suspect this Red-winged Starling was using the bull as a convenient perch for the same reason – there were several other cattle grazing nearby.

A symbiotic relationship with more mutual benefit would be this one between the Red-billed Oxpeckers and the Nyala bull: the oxpeckers probe the skin and ears of animals in order to feed on the parasites harboured there. This benefits both them and the animal concerned.

In the case of these oxpeckers on a Cape buffalo, only one appears to be ‘working’, while the others are enjoying a free ride!


March is a time of change in the garden. The small amount of rain that fell during the month has revived the trees and grass, while encouraging the blooming of the Plumbago.

It is also the time when the natural grasses go to seed, providing a nutritious alternative to the seeds I put out regularly. Weavers are losing their bright breeding plumage and have suspended their nest-building activities until spring. Not so the Olive Thrushes, of which I have counted up to six visible at a time, for at least one pair is still nesting. You will have to look at this photograph very carefully for the patch of orange on top of the dark mass of the nest!

Speckled Mousebirds scour the bushes for tiny berries, leaves, flowers and nectar, while Laughing Doves peck over the recently cleared compost area as well as the masses of tiny figs from the Natal Fig tree that have dropped onto the road below that are crushed by passing vehicles. The clusters of figs also attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings among a host of other birds.

As the Hadeda Ibises are no longer nesting, several have chosen to roost in this tree. On some mornings they wake as early as four o’clock to let the neighbourhood know they have slept well and are ready to discuss their breakfast plans. More melodious are the liquid notes of a pair of Blackheaded Orioles that waft through the garden, along with the gentle cooing of Cape Turtle Doves and the cheerful chirrup of Blackeyed Bulbuls. A pair of Forktailed Drongos regularly keep watch from either the telephone pole or the Erythrina caffra tree, ready to swoop down on anything edible that catches their eye. I have already drawn attention to the pair of Knysna Turacos that reside in the garden and recently posted a photograph of one looking at its reflection in our neighbour’s window. This is the view from the other side:

Cattle Egrets roosting in the CBD continue to experience hard times: two tall trees have recently been removed from the garden of a complex of flats because residents complained about the noise they make as well as the smell of their droppings. Several have taken to perching atop a neighbour’s tall tree in the late afternoons, but are not (yet) overnighting there.

Finally, of course my camera wasn’t at hand when we witnessed the very unusual sight of a Cardinal Woodpecker drinking and bathing in the bird bath only a short distance from where we were sitting!

My March bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.


I have mentioned before how Cattle Egrets are frequently seen in the proximity of the Urban Herd, quick to catch any insects disturbed whilst the cattle are grazing.

We saw several examples of a similar relationship in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first was a pair of Fiscal Shrikes hovering around these Warthogs as they scuffled around in the dry grass for food.

Next up was a pair of Cape Glossy Starlings keeping a close watch for whatever the Zebra may have disturbed while grazing.

A Cattle Egret found several insects to eat next to this Zebra.

This one hitched a ride on the back of a Cape Buffalo!

While this Cape Wagtail had a feast in the company of a Warthog next to the Hapoor Waterhole.


I have mentioned before how small herds of cattle are sometimes left to roam around our suburbs. This has become more prevalent since this area fell into the iron grip of a drought that has tortured gardeners, farmers, and wildlife of every sort. A bonus of having these cattle graze on unmown verges and on the grassy area between our street and the main road into town is that they attract Cattle Egrets.


There appears to be a symbiotic relationship between Cattle Egrets and grazing animals. We see them with the cattle here, and in the game reserves they follow in the wake of herds of buffalo, eland, springbuck and wildebeest.


In some parts of the country Cattle Egrets are commonly called Tick Birds. Unlike the Red-billed- and Yellow-billed Ox-peckers though, Cattle Egrets do not only pick ticks off the animals. Instead, they mostly forage for grasshoppers and other insects that are disturbed as the grazing animals move through the grass. The Ox-peckers, on the other hand, feed on ticks, flies, lice and worms that can be extracted from the fur of animals such as buffalo, rhinoceros, giraffe and impala by using a scissoring motion with their beaks.



The Cattle Egrets are social birds and so gather in fairly large flocks in the veld and – in our town – gather in a particular tree in the CBD to perch en masse at night. As you can imagine, this practice is not looked upon with favour by all residents.



What a joy to start this month with the sound of cackling laughter in the garden as a small group of Red-billed Wood-hoopoes (now called Green Wood-hoopoes) picked their way through the trees looking for insects and grubs. Their cheerful sounds and fleeting visits are always welcome.

The arrival of an African Goshawk had the other birds scurrying for cover. They have had to do the same whenever a Black Harrier skimmed the top of the trees for several days in a row. It is incredible how quickly the sense of danger is communicated from one bird to another.

I am used to flocks of doves and weavers rising with a ‘whoosh’ of feathers at an unusually loud noise from passing vehicles, the arrival of the neighbouring hound, or the footsteps of an unexpected visitor. One or two braver laughing Doves often remain on the lawn and look around as if wondering what all the fuss is about before they resume pecking at the seed scattered between the blades of grass. Not when an obvious predator is about though. Then all the birds disappear in a flash and even the youngsters, which moments before had been quivering their feathers and cheeping loudly for food, are silent until some sort of all clear is given.

The other day we were amused to watch a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos chasing away a Black Crow, which cawed loudly in protest. They didn’t give up until the crow had flown some distance away. I wonder if it had got to close to their nest. I haven’t located one, but regularly see the pair of them in the fig tree.

The Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets have been sighted more regularly this month, usually late in the afternoon when the sun highlights their wings as they fly over.

The Lesser-striped Swallows now flit in and out of their recently completed replacement nest. I keep my fingers crossed that the overcast weather we have been experiencing since Christmas is helping the clay globules to dry slowly and firmly so that these birds can successfully raise their young this time around.

Olive Thrushes and Cape Robins have been successful in this department: their respective speckled offspring are evident all over the garden. Cape Weavers and Village Weavers continue to devote a lot of energy to feeding their youngsters. I have also noticed Black-eyed Bulbuls stuffing their beaks before flying off, but have not yet located their nesting site.

Both the Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds visit the ‘pub’ regularly, as do the Fork-tailed Drongos, Cape White-eyes, Black-headed Orioles, Black-eyed Bulbuls and the weavers.

It is lovely hearing the liquid calls of the Burchell’s Coucals again. These ‘rain birds’ transport me back to the farm of my childhood: whenever their calls could be heard during a particularly long dry spell, farmers and their labourers alike would hopefully remark that the rain would surely be coming at last.

This blog started very tentatively a year ago. Thank you to those who read it from time to time, for the encouraging ‘likes’, comments and especially to those who have become ‘followers’. It is gratifying to know that there really is an audience out there!

My December list is:

African Goshawk
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift