SLEEPING ON THE JOB

It is hard work being a Laughing Dove: your day consists of preening, constantly searching for food, laughing with friends, courting, chasing away any opposition, keeping a wary eye open for neighbourhood cats as well as Yellow-billed Kites … it all gets a bit much at times.

A bit of shut-eye is needed now and then. I thought at first that this bird might be ill for it remained in this fluffed-up position for some time. Other doves alighted near it and left. This one was sleeping on the job though for it opened its eyes occasionally and then, presumably feeling refreshed, flew across to where some crushed mealies had been scattered on the ground and went about its usual business with gusto.

PREENING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

I recently showed an Olive Thrush sunbathing as part of the preening process to keep its feathers in good condition. Exposure to the sun helps to spread the preen oil along the feathers and the heat aids the process of dislodging lice and other parasites, making them easier to get rid of through preening. Here is another Olive Thrush sunbathing, seen from the back and so providing a good view of the fluffed up feathers and the tail feathers spread out to take advantage of the sunshine.

Laughing Doves also take the preening process seriously and frequently sunbathe in groups, spreading their wings wide and sometimes lifting one wing and then the other to let the sun shine under their wings. This one has finished sunbathing and is now carefully preening its feathers to get rid of the offending dust, bits of dirt and parasites. It is methodically nibbling or stroking every feather from its base to its tip.

While preening, birds also align each feather in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. The feathers are moisturised with preening oil during this process and afterwards the birds stretch and fluff up their feathers to ensure they are all in the right place once more after having been gone through so carefully. The serious business of daily preening is definitely no laughing matter, even for a Laughing Dove!

PERSISTENCE COULDN’T PAY OFF

Persistence describes continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. An interesting meme I came across the other day reads a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence. We are frequently told that willpower/persistence pays off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t – and there are times when it simply cannot. While a Speckled Pigeon dominates the photographs below – as it dominates Morrigan’s feeder meant for smaller birds – I want you to observe the actions of the Speckled Mousebird in the background.

Here you can see the Speckled Mousebird eyeing the end of the string tied to Morrigan’s bench feeder, which has tilted under the weight of the Speckled Pigeon. A Laughing Dove is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to eat any grains that the larger bird may have left. The Speckled Mousebird is not interested in food, but the tuft of string.

Even though there has been no rain here for months, leaving the surrounding country looking dry and no fresh shoots of leaves on the trees, spring is in the air and breeding must happen willy-nilly. It is nesting time. The only Speckled Mousebird nest I have seen was built high up in the Natal fig tree a few years ago. Mousebirds build an untidy nest from grass and stems and then line it with softer materials – I have watched them break off fronds of new leaves, collect feathers and even bits of paper for this purpose before.  I am not sure if the string was intended for the construction or lining of the nest.

I have to tell you that the tufted end of this string has softened over the years as a result of being pulled and tugged at by weavers especially. Anyway, this mousebird was going to give it a try. It got a strand in its beak and pulled and pulled and pulled.

It was hard work. We all know that persistence is the key to success and this mousebird had plenty to spare. I watched it working at the string for nearly fifteen minutes, tugging it this way and that without success.

I haven’t seen it back at the string, so assume it found more suitable material with which to either build or line its nest.

SOUTH AFRICAN DOVES

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.

SEPTEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

Headline news: it has rained on the last day of the month – 17mm!

Birds come and go as the seasons change. Laughing Doves remain throughout the year and have become so prolific that I have decided not to put out crushed mealies for them every day: they not only eat all of that, but have become adept at filching the finer seed from the hanging feeders too!

Other regular visitors throughout the year are the Black-collared Barbets. Their calls can be heard across the valley throughout the day and they come to inspect the availability of suitable food at least once a day.

Common Starlings are never shy to ‘elbow’ other birds out of the way to gobble up as much as they can at once.

On the subject of starlings, I was very excited to see a single Cape Glossy Starling in our garden the other day – even more so when at least six of them paid a visit yesterday!

Other newcomers this month include a Cardinal Woodpecker, Paradise Flycatcher, Pin-tailed Whydah, White-rumped Swifts, Thick-billed Weavers, Yellow Weaver and several Southern Masked Weavers. More of the latter have been evident than the Village Weavers this month.

I never tire of the Olive Thrushes as they never fail to amuse. They stab at the apples with their sharp beaks and sometimes swallow large pieces whole. They prefer pecking at the bits of apple that fall to the ground though and sometimes drag large pieces away to eat at their leisure under the cover of the bushes.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

FOUR HUNGRY BIRDS

The birds in our garden are regularly supplied with seeds and fruit, although there are a number of berries on indigenous trees at this time of the year as well as succulent flowers on the Erythrina caffra tree especially. Weavers and other smaller birds are provided with fine grass seeds in the hanging feeders and coarse seeds, such as crushed maize and millet are scattered on the ground for doves and pigeons. Well, that is the way it is supposed to work. Here is one of many Cape Weavers making the most of the abundance of Erythrina caffra flowers.

Amethyst sunbirds, Speckled Mousebirds, Common Starlings, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Laughing Doves, African Green Pigeons, Black-eyed Bulbuls and a variety of other birds visit these blossoms during the day. Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and the Speckled Pigeons also gather below the hanging feeders to eat the seeds that fall to the ground. These Laughing Doves have decided to get to the source:

Not to be outdone, a Speckled Pigeon has usurped Morrigan’s feeder for a good meal:

There are a lot of berries and seeds around for the Speckled Mousebirds to feed on, but here they have homed in on an orange I put out on the feeding tray:

JULY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The drought continues.

Laughing Doves never disappoint: they gather in the treetops to bask in the early morning sunshine; scour the ground for fallen seeds or cling onto the hanging feeders to eat the fine grass seed meant for the smaller birds; and fill the garden with their gentle cooing sound throughout the day. Our garden would be poorer without them.

It would probably be poorer without the Speckled Pigeons too, as messy as these home invaders are! The bright yellow Black-headed Orioles are a delight to see and hear every day. They tend to call to each other from the tree tops and swoop down in a flash of yellow to drink from the nectar feeder.

At this time of the year the Redwinged Starlings still fly around in flocks, making the most of the natural fruits and berries available in the neighbourhood.

A Cape Robin-chat regularly serenades me from the shrubbery while I am enjoying a cup of tea in the garden. There are fewer of the other songsters, the Olive Thrushes, about than usual. However, if I look around very carefully indeed, I can usually find one perched quietly in a tree watching me!

A Boubou has taken to helping itself to the offerings on Morrigan’s feeder from time to time.

Meanwhile, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been flitting around the garden making happy noises as if to say that spring is in the air. Black-collared Barbets are also calling to each other, but have been rather shy about appearing in the open this month – as have the ‘resident’ / regular pair of Knysna Turacos. The Fork-tailed Drongos never fail to please with their acrobatics and it is always a pleasure to spot Cape White-eyes.

A small flock of Crowned Hornbills paid a visit this month. They are always most welcome.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.