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

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.