Before arriving at Londolozi I knew very little about birds. My previous bush experience usually entailed focusing on all the other animals and especially the Big 5. Whilst I will always love spending time with a pride of lions or being immersed in a herd of elephants, my bush experience has broadened significantly after taking an interest in birds, and here’s why I think yours can too…
Variety and Diversity in Birds
Birds are incredible creatures and there is so much that we can admire about them. The array of different shapes and sizes, colours and patterns, habitats and niches in which they fit in is unfathomable. Although to the novice, they all appear as just another bird, once you get a better understanding of them how they vary it can be so exciting. Many species, such as the bee-eaters, for example, boast beautiful colours that catch your attention. Others, such as the kingfishers, whose plumage is almost, if not more striking, than the bee-eaters, have adapted to fulfil specific niches.
Different Types of Beaks in Birds
Let’s talk about the beaks for a second, each family has a different shaped bill, all designed with a specific purpose to fulfil. From the short conical seed-eating bills to the long thin probing bills, the robust sharp wood pecking bills to the curved sifting bills, the flattened spoon-shaped bills to the needle-sharp stabbing bills. Just merely taking the time to look at why each bird’s beak is shaped in that particular way will help you determine roughly what type of food it eats and where you might be able to find them.
Colouration in Birds
We all love looking at attractive things and many of these birds most certainly fall into that category. Whether they be a stunning pattern, a solid bright colour, a combination of colours or a combination of colours and patterns, there are so many extraordinarily pretty birds. Some of the birds that frequent Londolozi have striking plumage which have been used in the past for symbolic purposes.
It is not just about looking at the birds that are captivating, but rather listening to the symphony of bird calls during the dawn chorus, or the individual melodies of the songbirds during their displays. The bird calls definitely spruce up the ambience when out and about on a game drive. Recently Chris Taylor put together blogs to highlight some of these beautiful calls:
Inspiration From Birds
Humans have in fact taken inspiration from some of these weird and wonderful adaptations, including that of the kingfisher’s beak, and replicated them to make materials, structures, and systems more efficient.
How can we use Birds to our Advantage?
Apart from appreciating their unique characteristics, understanding bird behaviour can save your life, or lead you to one of the Big 5. This works two-fold:
- If you see or hear certain birds, you can use them as clues for what lies ahead. For example, the call of Oxpeckers, especially that of the Yellow-Billed Oxpecker, often (but now always) indicates the presence of large herbivores such as rhinos or buffalos. Avoiding unintentionally bumping into these species whilst on foot can help you avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
- Seeing a Tawny Eagle, Bateleur or Vultures gives you a clue that a carcass, and therefore predator, might be in the area.
- In other situations, for example, when trying to identify or merely admire a bird, I will stop and switch off the vehicle to get a better look. This increases your chances of hearing a lion’s roar, or impalas alarming at a predator without the drone of the diesel engine. This has led me to find predators on countless occasions.
Generally, birds will always be around, and from time to time your afternoon game drive might have started off as a fairly quiet one and you might not find the lions that you had been tracking, but birds will always be there to be admired. If, however, you are lucky enough to find those lions in the late afternoon, identifying birds and watching their behaviour can keep the energy up whilst waiting for the lions to wake up and get moving.
It provides an added dimension, a further layer onto your bush experience.
For those of you keen to take that next step, a blog written earlier this year gives some basic steps on how to do exactly that. In his blog, Josh mentions that as rangers at Londolozi we are participating in a ‘Birding Big Year.’ The winner of which will have seen the highest number of species of birds in Southern Africa during 2021, which brings me to my last point.
You can take birding with you anywhere you go. I was recently lucky enough to visit Mozambique where I added eight new species of birds to my life list, some of which you can only find in the unique habitat along the Mozambican coastline and islands. Due to Londolozi having a variety of habitats, we too are lucky enough to see many and various species of birds, and with summer fast approaching I can’t wait to welcome back the migratory species and hopefully add a few more species to my list before the year draws to a close.