Bird of the week – Week 43: Bokmakierie

The call of the Bokmakierie is a delight to hear. The paired birds almost invariably call in duet and have quite an extensive repertoire, but often containing a bok, bok, bok followed by a krrreee response. Hence the birds common name. We watched a pair in the southern Cape of South Africa with great delight as they put on a performance that lasted several minutes. Their heads were thrown back, their bills wide open as they bobbed and called to the sky in a well-choreographed duet, occasionally pausing in order to touch beaks as if deciding on the next tune to be performed. They sing at any time of the year, usually from the top of a bush, a fence roof.
A fairly large shrike, about 24 cm in length, the Bokmakierie has a grey crown and an olive green back, the eyebrow, throat and underparts are yellow and it has a broad black gorget. The tail is black, tipped with bright yellow and with green central rectrices. The eyes are brown, the hooked bill black and the legs bluish-grey. The sexes are similar in plumage, but the males are bigger than the females.
Classified as a “near endemic” in the southern African region, the Bokmakierie is found throughout most of South Africa, but is uncommon in Zimbabwe and the drier areas of Namibia. Within its range it is found in a variety of habitats ranging from riverine thickets to open grasslands and thornveld. They feed on insects, frogs, lizards and even small snakes.
Bokmakieries are monogamous and build a cup-shaped nest that is usually well hidden in a densely leaved bush. The female usually lays a clutch of three bright green-blue eggs that are spotted with brown, and which hatch after an incubation period of about 16 days.
The scientific binomial for the Bokmakierie is Telophorus zeylonus; Telophorus from the Greek for “to carry far”, perhaps referring to the Bokmakierie’s ringing call,  and zeylonus from the Latin for Ceylon ( now Sri Lanka) – this is a bit odd for a southern African near endemic! Apparently Linnaeus, who gave the bird the name, thought that the specimen had been collected in Ceylon. Thus a bird with a far carrying call that comes from Ceylon. Half right!

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