Wild Frontiers

The quirky birds of Hwange

Africa is a fantastic destination for serious twitchers and burgeoning bird enthusiasts alike. When booking an African safari you will find a wealth of information about the Big 5 and other renowned game, however, many visitors find themselves as enthralled by the birdlife as much as the wildlife on this diverse continent.

While you are on your game drive or even just relaxing at your lodge, you’ll spot a wide variety of our feathered friends enacting their quirky habits.

Read below for some of the more eccentric birds that you can find around Elephant’s Eye in Hwange in Zimbabwe.

♦ Racket-tailed roller

This unusual bird is recognised not only for its vibrant colours but also by its distinctive elongated tail feathers that end in beautiful paddle-shaped tips. Generally found perched on the fine branches of Hwange’s abundant mopane trees, it is from this strategic vantage point that they swoop down onto the ground to prey on insects such as grasshoppers and beetles.

Being quite territorial they are known to fearlessly drive away intruders by shooting down from a height with a cacophonous screech, and then rolling from side to side once they become level. A fascinating feat to witness unless you happen to be the one under fire. Don’t mess with these mobsters.

♦ Purple roller

The magnificent purple rollers of Hwange prefer to perch on dead branches whilst hunting and are known to pay particular attention to their nests, using the same one for years whilst giving regular inspections when not in use.

They are also highly territorial and will chase away any other rollers, crows, and even small hawks without fear or hesitation. Protecting their turf like a true mob boss. But it is their elaborate courtship ritual, involving feeding and acrobatic flight performances that brings out their exhibitionist side, which is a real delight to see.

♦ Arnot’s chat

Arnot’s chats are especially exciting to spot. With the proud males adorning little white crowns and the females bearing pretty white chests, this pied pair tend to forage together low down on the mopani trees, hanging sideways on the bark whilst hunting for small insects.

This is a monogamous relationship in which they spend their entire lives together. In the event that their ‘spouse’ dies however, only then will they move on to another partner.

♦ Carmine bee-eater

Carmine bee-eaters have to be one of Africa’s most striking and beautiful migratory birds. Nesting in flocks of up to a 1000 individuals or more along the banks of rivers, of which they dig out tiny little holes to nest in, they are a beautiful sight to behold when in flight.

Like true exhibitionists, they seem to delight in their own elegance and beauty. As their name implies, these brightly coloured deep-pink and turquoise birds are adept at catching and eating bees with captivating swoops and aerial cartwheels.

What’s especially interesting is that they have learnt how to de-venom the bees they catch by beating them against one side of a branch and rubbing its abdomen on the other side. They are also attracted to bush fires, snapping up the insects that are escaping the flames.

♦ Meyer’s parrots

Named after German ornithologist Bernhard Meyer, these highly intelligent African parrots, which are actually bred as pets, are a very special sighting in Hwange. With a brownish grey cap on their heads and a vibrant green back with a blue undercarriage, these sweet little birds are always a treat to see.

At Elephant’s Eye they’re certainly not pets but the resident flock do like to visit guests’ tents after their morning shower to drink the remaining water, regardless of whether they’ve had time to put their towel on or not before arriving.

♦ Fork-tailed drongo

Once of the most enchanting calls of the bushveld comes from the fork-tailed drongo, a small pitch black bird with a beautiful forked-tail who happens to have some habits that doesn’t make it too popular amongst the other birds. As kleptoparasites, they are known for stealing food from another bird that has either caught, collected, or otherwise prepared. This also includes the stealing of nest material or other inanimate objects.

Not only are they kleptomaniacs, but they have arsonist tendencies too! One of the guides at Elephant’s Eye has even observed them starting mini fires to root out insects. During a small bush fire, the bird picked up a burning twig and dropped it further afield where there was no fire and caught the bugs that flew up. Definitely the kind of bird you don’t want to get on their bad side.

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