The extraordinary birdlife in our garden

Over the last months, I’ve managed to photograph a range of birds in our garden. I’d like to introduce you to our beloved feathered friends, some of whom you’ve probably seen before.

Cape Sparrows

These two adorable Cape Sparrows (Mr and Mrs Sparrow) are currently nesting (methinks) underneath the dilapidated shade-roof near our garden sheds, after their flimsily built nest on the security light was blown off:

A pair of Cape Sparrows

A pair of Cape Sparrows

“Cape Sparrow (Passer melanurus): Male has black crown and face joining wide black breast-bar. Female has grey head. Black bill. Chestnut back. Call: musical “chirrup”. Dry grassland, scrub, associated with human habitation. Flocks in non-breeding season, otherwise in pairs. Tame and confiding. Widespread except NE. Resident.”

Tame and confiding… Aaaawwww! Now doesn’t that just make you goosh? 🙂

Cape White-Eye

This is one of the Cape White-Eyes, who love to bathe in our bird bath, even when it’s very cold outside and the water temperature is even colder. They seem immune to the cold.

A Cape White-Eye on the edge of the birdbath

A Cape White-Eye on the edge of the birdbath

I adore these little birds, because they’re so full of spunk and joy, flitting around the garden in big flocks, whistling and chirping so merrily.

Splashing about

Splashing about

“Cape White-Eye (Zosterops pallidus): White eye-ring. Olive-green upperparts. Underparts greyish (SW) or greenish-yellow (NE) or pale with cinnamon flanks (arid W). Call: soft “twee”. Thick bush, gardens. Parties move through bush gleaning food. Throughout South Africa and most of Namibia. Resident.”

“Parties move through bush gleaning food”. Oh yeah! That sounds exactly right! 😀

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Turtle doves are large birds, with a nasty temperament. Whenever I put food out for the little birds, these big bullies muscle their way in, wings outspread and beak stretched forward to attack. They’re also the main reason why our bird-feeder is about to fall apart, because they’re far too fat and heavy to sit in it!

A Cape Turtle Dove waiting for food

A Cape Turtle Dove waiting for food

“Cape Turtle Dove (Streptopelia capicola): “Pale grey head. Black eyes. Black half-collar. Pallid grey underparts, darker upperparts. White-tipped tail visible in flight. Call: “kuk-cooo-kuk” repeated. Most habitats. Throughout southern Africa. Resident.”

Laughing Dove

Laughing Doves are much smaller than Cape Turtle doves, and their wings make a soft fluttering sound when they glide in to land.

A Laughing Dove keeping a wary eye on me

A Laughing Dove keeping a wary eye on me

They are also much gentler in temperament (even bordering on excessively timid), don’t defend their territory aggressively, and don’t participate in such frenzied wing-flapping ‘mating attacks’ (rapes) as the Cape Turtle doves!

A pair of Laughing Doves sitting companiably next to each other

A pair of Laughing Doves sitting companiably next to each other

“Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis): Pinkish head and neck. Cinnamon breast with black spots, cinnamon back. In flight white outer tail feathers conspicuous. Call: soft “coo-coo-cook-coo-coo”. Wide variety of habitats. Throughout southern Africa. Resident.”

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeons are dramatically coloured. They are larger than the Cape Turtle doves, and have a sweeter temperament. I rarely see them engaged in aggressive behaviour towards other birds; they seem to keep their distance, willing to wait their turn at the seed tray. I think they are extraordinarily beautiful. I was very lucky indeed to get this shot of them on the water fountain – they must have been in a particularly mellow mood.

A pair of Rock Pigeons on the fountain

A pair of Rock Pigeons on the fountain

“Rock Pigeon (Columba guinea): Bill black. Bare red eye patch. Rufous, white-spotted underparts. Legs red. Call: deep cooing “doo-doo-doo”, rising then falling. Mountains, cliffs, cities. Often in flocks, travelling long distances for water or to feed in grain fields. Widespread except north-central areas and NE. Common resident.”

Hadeda Ibis

I’ve written about these noisy fellas with their scimitar-like beaks before (most recently here and here). I usually see them puncturing holes in our lawn and tugging out one poor rainworm after another (I so wish they’d limit themselves to the slugs and the root-devouring grubs, but they prefer our spaghetti-like rainworms).

It turns out that a pair of hadeda had recently built a nest in our neighbour’s huge tree. This would explain the frequent fly-overs and the ear-splitting din several times a day.

This is mumsy guarding her nest. I shot it against the sun, so I had to overexpose it – but I love how the beak looks red with the light behind it!

Mrs Hadeda in her nest

Mrs Hadeda in her nest

“Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hadedash): Decurved bill, red upper mandible. White cheek stripes. Drab brown plumage with glossy pink shoulder patch. Call: loud “ha-ha-haadada”, often in unison. Suburban gardens, grassland, plantations, near water, damp ground. Usually small groups. Roost in tall tree. N, E and S. Resident.”

European Starling

These are much larger than the Cape White-Eyes, but they also travel in gangs. Er, sorry, flocks. They tend to descend on the lawn in a noisy flutter of wings, chirring and churring at each other, and hopping along, pecking at the ground and alighting on branches.

They frighten very easily, so I thought it was a miracle that I managed to get a shot – well, more or less:

European starling high up in the tree

European starling high up in the tree

There’s always at least one in the flock who’s on guard duty somewhere higher up, and I imagine them shouting back and forwards:

“Everything still okay up there? Can we carry on eating?”

“Yes, yes, no danger, just hurry up, I’m hungry too.”

“OK, OK, keep yer hat on, we’re eating as fast as we can.”

“You greedy lot! Leave me some of those worms too!”

“Stop watching us eat – you’re on guard duty!”

“Oy! Listen up! That silly woman with the camera is sneaking up on us! SCATTER!!!”

This one's on guard duty

This one’s on guard duty

“European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris): Bill yellow when breeding. Blackish plumage with purple-green sheen and pale speckling. Call: harsh “cherr”. Flocks in suburbia, playing fields, farmland. Walks rapidly with jerking action. Probes ground for food. Introduced. S. Resident.”

Olive Thrush

We’ve got two or three Olive Thrushes living in and around our garden, but they are very difficult to photograph because they are very camera-shy. This is usually all I manage to capture:

Olive Thrush hidden between the branches of the hedge

Olive Thrush hidden between the branches of the hedge

They’re largish birds, which are often seen hopping and fluttering around on the lawn or underneath shrubs and bushes. They like to forage in the undergrowth, I think. One day, I was lucky (but the picture still came out a bit blurry).

At last, a good shot!

At last, a good shot!

“Olive Thrush (Monticola rupestris): Yellow bill. Speckled throat. Olive-orange underparts. Call: thin “wheet” or “wheet-troo-wheet-wheetrroo…” Woodland, suburbia. Singly or in pairs. Male displays with drooped wings and tail dragging. S half of region. Resident.”

Cape Weaver

Recently, a Cape Weaver bird appeared in our garden. The first time I heard him singing – or rather emitting that awful, shrieking, sawing noise – I thought it was some sort of parrot that had escaped from a cage somewhere. The sound was soooo loud that I thought it had to be a huge bird.

It wasn’t. It was a surprisingly small yellow bird. He proved very skittish, though, and of the 20 or so photos I took, only one looks more or less decent. He’s really pretty, don’t you think?

A Cape Weaver bird hides in the foliage

A Cape Weaver bird hides in the foliage

Much to my delight, he’s actually built himself a fantastic little nest in the neighbour’s tree (the very same tree where Mrs Hadeda is currently nesting).

Cape Weaver decorating his nest

Cape Weaver decorating his nest

Now I’m holding thumbs that Mrs Weaver approves of her new home, and that the interior design is to her liking. I’m told that the females tend to be just a leeeetle hyper-critical of their male’s nest-building activities. Quite frankly, I’d like to point out to them that their nest actually LOOKS like a nest and that she shouldn’t be quite so dismissive! Here’s hoping that our adorable Mr Sparrow takes lessons from Mr Weaver, because he really could use the help!

“Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis): Heavy bill. Breeding male has pale eyes, orange wash over face, black line from bill to eye not extending behind eye. Female and non-breeding male paler. Call: rapidly repeated swizzling, harsher than masked weaver. Singly, in pairs or small flocks among trees, usually near water. Nests in small colonies. SW, S and E. Resident.”

“Call: rapidly repeated swizzling” – yep, that’s exactly what it sounds like. 🙂

Cape Bulbul

And this afternoon, I got a picture of a bird I had not often seen in our garden. When I looked it up in my clever book, it turned out that it was a Cape Bulbul.

A wary Cape Bulbul looking straight at the camera

A wary Cape Bulbul looking straight at the camera

It was very nervous of me, but obligingly perched on a high branch, trilling and singing lustily, while keeping one eye trained on me. Whenever I tried to get closer, it fluttered further away. Drat! I hope it was calling for a mate, because it was a very beautiful bird with a most enchanting song, and I’d love them to become regular visitors.

Cape Bulbul keeping an eye on me

Cape Bulbul keeping an eye on me

I was honestly amazed to see how many different birds visited our garden and those of our neighbours. I’m sure there must be others, and I hope I’ll capture them on camera.


P.S. All the above descriptions were taken from The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A field guide to the animals and plants of the region, edited by Vincent Carruthers.

4 thoughts on “The extraordinary birdlife in our garden

  1. What a wonderful variety of birds that you have there. I like the appearance of the Cape Weaver the best.

    Certainly a contrast to the regulars we have in the Northeastern US: cardinals, blue jays, robins, blue birds, sparrows, morning doves, and lots of crows.

  2. Reggie, what a lovely list you’ve compiled of your winged visitors. It’s funny how you have Laughing Doves while we have Mourning Doves. They look a bit similar. I checked and their territories don’t overlap.

I'd love to hear your views

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