PORTRAIT OF A LAUGHING DOVE

Laughing Doves abound in our garden, filling the air with their gentle burbling sounds throughout the day. They flock together to forage for seeds on the ground; males, with their chests inflated, constantly break off eating to either chase off other males or after females; pairs sit close together in the still bare branches of trees; and a few, like this one, catch a moment on their own.

 

JUNE 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Living through this lengthy, socially restrictive lock down brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic would be most unpleasant if it were not for the birds that visit our garden. They provide a pleasant rhythm to each day: Red-eyed Doves call out ‘better get started’ on these dark, cold mornings; the Hadeda Ibises provide a shrill wake-up call about half an hour before sunrise; and the Speckled Pigeons scuffle around in the ceiling, ready to chase any other birds off Morrigan’s feeder – in this case a Cape Weaver – as soon as the seed is put out.

Laughing Doves hug the tree tops to warm up in the morning sun.

Red-winged Starlings swoop over the suburb in ever larger flocks, while Black-eyed Bulbuls keep their sharp eyes open for the fruit on offer.

Olive Thrushes emerge from the shrubbery at the first sign of something tasty to eat – usually fruit, but this one took a fancy to peanut butter on toast!

Cape White-eyes queue at the nectar feeder.

They are occasionally chased off by the much larger Black-headed Oriole.

A Bar-throated Apalis regularly makes its shrill calls during the day as it pokes about looking for insects in the foliage; Greater Double-collared Sunbirds chase each other across the garden in between drinking their fill from the nectar feeder or visiting the aloes; and the Common Fiscal swoops down to see what food is available during quieter moments of the day. Another bird that prefers to inspect the offerings ‘in private’ is the Cape Robin-chat.

My June bird list is:

Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

SAND BATHING

Birds don’t only use water for cleaning themselves, they also ‘sand bathe’. This is a rather interesting phenomenon to observe and so it is worth leaving open sandy patches in your garden. A variety of birds use the fine loose sand to keep their feathers in peak condition and to reduce the number of parasites in them. I first noticed the Laughing Doves doing this in our garden.

Small flocks of them congregate in sandy areas to scoop up the sand with their wings. They then shake their wings, allowing the sand to penetrate between the feathers. Allied to this is the habit of sunbathing, which is when the birds lie down with their wings outstretched. The sun is thought to straighten the feathers and at the same time spread the preen oil throughout the feathers.   Olive Thrushes also engage in this kind of sand bathing.

Dust bathing helps absorb any excess oil and also removes dry skin and other debris. Ostriches sand bathe too.

BIRD BATHS

Bird baths provide an incentive for birds to visit one’s garden. This is because water is not only essential for drinking, but birds also bathe in it and preen themselves afterwards. Bathing is important for the maintenance of bird feathers as it keeps them clean and fluffed: the water helps to remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from a bird’s plumage

Olive Thrush

While a variety of commercially-produced bird baths are available, any fairly shallow object that holds water can be used. I have used drip trays from large flower pots, pet bowls, and even an upturned dustbin lid for this purpose. The most frequently used bird bath in my garden at the moment is an upturned lid of a garden lamp that ceased working decades ago!

Cape Robin-chat

This might be because it is on the ground, where it is visited by Olive Thrushes, Red-winged Starlings, weavers and doves. Other birds, such as Cape White-eyes, Cape Robin-chats, and the Bronze Manikins prefer the natural stone bath that has plenty of cover nearby for them to escape to if necessary.

Laughing Doves

It is best to place bird baths near natural shelter – even if one placed out in the open may look more attractive from a human perspective. Birds are more likely to use a bird bath regularly if they feel safe. One like this is more likely to attract larger birds such as Red-eyed Doves.

Redeyed Dove

The larger of the two commercially produced bird baths in my garden has plenty of cover only a wing-beat away if birds need to shelter from potential predators. Black-eyed Bulbuls, Olive Thrushes and Cape White-eyes seem to enjoy the extra space available for them to bathe in. I have also noticed a pair of Knysna Turacos drinking from it when they think no-one is watching!

Blackeyed Bulbul

Although the larger bird bath has a sloping rigid lip that birds can perch on, both it and a more recently acquired one are actually too deep for comfort and so I have added smooth stones to provide more footholds. Whatever you use as a bird bath, you are bound to experience a rich dimension to your gardening pleasure. It is both calming and interesting to watch birds drinking, bathing and preening themselves.

Too deep to use as is.

Bird baths also benefit the bees, wasps and butterflies that visit your garden. It is important to keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and to give them a good scrub with a rigid brush every now and then to prevent a build-up of algae. The provision of fresh water will benefit birds visiting your garden throughout the year.

APRIL 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This is the first time I have ever been confined to my garden for a whole month. I have found the act of sitting outside to watch the avian visitors come and go has been tinged with a sense of loss – not only our loss of the freedom to explore other places, but the loss so many people all over the world are experiencing in terms of family, lifestyles, earning power and the ability to travel. We all feel it in one way or another. Bird watching is a contemplative activity and so, perhaps without even meaning to, I have curtailed the time spent doing so. Then again, perhaps I think too much about our current situation and should simply live each day as it comes … this pandemic has to draw to a close sometime!

Meanwhile, Laughing Doves continue to gather along the telephone wire or perch in the tree tops in expectation of the arrival of seed. This one has come down to a low branch to investigate the fine bird seed dropped from the feeder.

In keeping with looking back on happier times, I have decided to compare this month’s garden bird list with that of a year ago. There clearly isn’t enough fruit around to attract the African Green Pigeons, although with minute figs forming on the Natal Fig they are bound to return next month. Year-round visitors are the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and here a female is visiting the nectar feeder.

Her mate is visiting a Cape Honeysuckle for his share of naturally produced nectar.

Having sat in a different part of the garden for a change, I was able to spend several minutes watching a Black-backed Puffback working its way through the top of the trees – far too high for me to even attempt a photograph of it between gaps in the thick foliage. It was in this same wooded place that I have had the privilege of meeting a Cape Batis a few times. Cape Crows seem to be on the increase here: several fly across almost daily and sometimes perch in one of the tall trees – they weren’t around last April. Nor were Cape Weavers, the Common Fiscal, the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove or Green Woodhoopoes. The latter have cackled all around the garden during the course of this month.

Olive Thrushes are quick to investigate any interesting looking food sources. This one took a bite out of an apple before I had hardly turned my back.

The Lesser-striped Swallows had already left by this time last year, yet the pair this year are still regularly visiting their nest under the eaves, leaving me wondering if they have a last brood to feed before they set off. The Pin-tailed Whydah has been a sporadic visitor so far this year and was even prepared to rustle between some pruned branches the other day to get at seed dropped from the bird feeder. A Red-fronted Tinker bird and Sombre Bulbuls have been heard more than seen, while a Southern Red Bishop made a rare visit to the feeders last week – a quick in-out foray. A pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries and Spectacled Weavers make up the birds seen this year that are not on last April’s list. I am pleased to say that I recorded nine more birds in my garden than I did in April last year.

This Black-eyed Bulbul was also quick off the mark to sample the freshly cut apple.

My April bird list is:

African Darter
African Paradise Flycatcher
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Emerald Spotted Wood Dove
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Red Bishop
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary