PREENING TIME

What does preening make you think of?

In human terms it would refer to someone who not only devotes time and effort to look attractive, but spends time admiring his or her appearance. For birds, preening is a different matter altogether: they clean and tidy their feathers with their beaks – an important part of their hygiene to be sure, but also to keep their feathers in prime condition for flying and to rid themselves of any pesky parasites. I have watched Laughing Doves and Olive Thrushes preening themselves in our garden.

Laughing Dove

Apart from removing dust and parasites from their feathers, preening also oils the feathers before the birds carefully aligning each one into the most aerodynamic shape to assist the birds to make their flight more efficient.

Olive Thrush

What both humans and birds have in common as far as preening is concerned is that maintaining a healthy and attractive appearance is more likely to attract a life partner and friends – the latter being far more important to humans than to birds. Birds need to attract a strong mate with a view to raising healthy chicks.

Here a pair of aquatic birds are preening themselves: a White-breasted Cormorant at the back is stretching its wings to dry, while the Black-headed Heron in front is still heavily involved in the preening process.

The heron is at last satisfied that all its feathers are in place and straightens itself – there is no need to peek at its reflection in the dam for it knows that it looks perfect!

NOVEMBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

While this has been another wonderful month for observing birds in our garden, having undergone major eye surgery at the start of it has put paid to me taking many photographs – only the Common Fiscal one is new. I apologise if you recognise the others from previous posts.

The saga of the Common Fiscals keep me entertained on a daily basis. There is definitely antagonism between the ringed one and what I call the Friendly Fiscal. The latter has come to expect its own portion of food, which I place in a dish on the garden table while I am there. It still either eats out of my hand or helps itself if I am eating or drinking. The ringed one perches in the branches above and clearly intimidates my friend. Mind you, it remains far too cautious to collect the food itself! You will be hearing more about their interactions.

I think the Blackheaded Oriole is one of the most handsome looking birds in our garden and so I am always pleased when they come to drink from the nectar feeder or taste the fare on the feeding table. They are enjoying the Natal figs this month.

As you have become aware, Laughing Doves abound – filling the garden with their delightful cooing and providing endless entertainment as they court each other, chase off rivals, spread their wings out to sun themselves, or perch on the seed feeders meant for much smaller birds.

Then there is the Boubou, which is heard more often than it is seen.

Lastly the Olive Thrushes, which make regular appearances here, delight in the way they edge closer to me if they sense there is more interesting food in the offing; have the sharpest eyesight that can spot a tiny block of cheese that falls some distance from them – even it is hidden under a flower; are among the first to sample the fresh fruit; and are among the last calls to be heard before darkness sets in.

A single Southern Red Bishop appeared at the feeders for two days in a row before disappearing. Cape Wagtails have been skirting the swimming pool, making quick flights over it to catch insects, and have been combing the lawn for caterpillars. Several Green Woodhoopoes have cackled their way through the trees and aloes, and on these warm nights we are lulled to sleep by the mellifluous sounds of a nearby Fiery-necked Nightjar.

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

SEPTEMBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

We have been treated throughout the month by the scarlet blossoms of the Erythrina caffra, which attracts a variety of birds throughout the day. A flock of Speckled Mousebirds make regular forays there to feed on the nectar.

Meanwhile, I am greeted daily by a flock of Laughing Doves perched either on the telephone line or in a nearby tree, waiting for me to put out seed for them. They would eat me out of house and home, so they are treated once a day only!

I have mentioned that two Common Fiscals have become regular visitors. The un-ringed one is increasingly tame / brave enough to perch on me and to eat food from my hand. I suspect it now expects to have its private supply of food for it hovers above my shoulder until I have sat down and then inspects what I have brought out. It once even came into the house when we were having tea indoors because of the inclement weather, but made its way out very quickly. The fiscal pictured below (with a ring) is a long-time garden visitor, yet maintains a distance. I have always used its ring as a means of identification. Now that we see the two of them on a daily basis, I have noticed other differences: this one does not have the same distinct eyebrows as the other, and it has a permanent dark spot on its front.

Some of you remarked on the crest of the Dark-capped Bulbul last month and so I feature one again, along with a good view of the yellow vent under its tail.

Another bird that got itself lost indoors was a Speckled Pigeon that probably entered through an open window in the bathroom. I first saw it on top of a cupboard in the upstairs passage and opened the window closest to it and left – only to return to my study a while later to find it perched on the curtain rail, having knocked photographs from the windowsill and scattered papers from my desk all over the floor! This time I caught it behind a curtain and almost shoved it out of the nearest window.

Of special note is the return of White-rumped Swifts in greater numbers. There is still no sign of Lesser-striped Swallows: I wonder if they ‘know’ there is no mud here with which to build their nests.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

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