Birds need water. I have mentioned the need for Lesser-striped Swallows to source mud in order to build their nests and expressed the need to provide clean water for birds to drink and to bathe in. Bathing helps to remove dirt from the feathers, making them easier to preen. Different birds drink water in different ways, making it interesting to observe them doing so. Here are three pictures to illustrate the interaction between birds and water. The first shows a Cape White-eye sourcing water to drink from an overhead irrigation pipe in the gardens at !Gariep Dam:
The next is a Red-eyed Dove drinking deeply from a bird bath in a Boksburg garden:
Then we move to Tsitsikamma, where these Kelp Gulls are enjoying the swimming pool at the camping area:
Everything is on guard these days. The branches are filled with birds of every feather watching and waiting: for the bird baths to be filled, for seed or fruit to appear, or for some miracle to happen. Black-eyed Bulbuls perch in the dry frames of the Pompon trees that are usually smothered in pink blossoms by now; weavers chatter quietly in the shrubbery; Cape White-eyes work their way through leaves on the lookout for anything to eat; Laughing Doves look down from the top branches … all watching and waiting. I think food and drink are a priority now.
While the Red-eyed Dove (Streptopelio semitorquata) is a familiar visitor to many gardens, I have noticed that it is not a particularly gregarious bird, preferring to take a back seat to the many Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons that openly forage for seed on the ground. Unlike them, it prefers to forage under trees, either alone or with its mate, and spends a lot of the day perched on the leafy branches of the Natal Fig tree. It is quite unusual to see one perched more or less out in the open like this on a branch of the white-ironwood (Vepris lanceolate):
It is sentinel-like in its stance: erect, watchful, alert and fully aware of its surroundings. Red-eyed Doves need to drink regularly – a necessity in the current state of heat and aridity – and this one may have been wondering when the bird baths were going to be refilled.
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.
The mournful calls of Emerald Spotted Wood Doves wafted across the Spekboom from around four in the morning. By first light several birds had begun methodically combing the camping area for bits of food that may have been dropped during suppers the night before. Among them were:
A Southern Boubou looking quizzically at the camera before resuming its search between the gravel stones.
An adult Olive Thrush that seized upon a baby tomato at the base of the Spekboom hedge, crushed it in its beak, and then fed it to the spotted juvenile following it around.
This Laughing Dove looks as if it has just woken up!
A more alert Redeyed Dove stretching to pick up a tiny seed lodged between the gravel.
This brightly coloured Cape Weaver flew down to see what may be hiding behind the leaves.
As did a sharp-eyed Southern Masked Weaver. You can tell the sun had risen by then!
While a curious Cape Bulbul watched the proceedings from on high.
Of course there were many more, but we had poured a warm drink and gone off to explore …