The four francolins of the genus Scleroptila, found mainly in the grassland areas of southern Africa, are a confusingly similar group, with their white throats and brown speckled plumage. There are differences, however, and the fact that they are often to be found in different parts of the country does make identification somewhat less of a problem.
The Orange River francolin occupies mostly the north-western part of the southern African region, from northern and central Namibia, westwards across into Botswana and southwards into the northern part of South Africa. Within this range it is regarded as a fairly common resident of open grassland and dry savanna, usually found in pairs or in small coveys of up to ten or twelve birds.
They are quite often seen at the edge of the road, or scurrying down a gravel road or track ahead of the car and although the francolins are medium-sized with a length of around 33 cm, it is surprising how quickly they are able to disappear from view when entering a convenient patch of dry grass. Their cryptic colouring is a mottled pattern of black and brown that serves as effective camouflage in their chosen environment, and coupled to this is the fact that they are naturally shy and elusive. The sexes have similar plumage, with the males being slightly larger than the females.
Orange River francolins feed on bulbs and seeds, with some green shoots, berries and insects. Their call is a rapid kibitele, kibitele, kibitele that is repeated up to nine times.
Like most of the francolins and spurfowls, the Orange River francolins are monogamous. They nest in a scrape on ground that is lined with dry grass and is usually quite well hidden. The female lays a clutch approximately 4 or 5 yellowish-brown eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days.
The scientific name for the Orange River francolin is Scleroptila levaillantoides; Scleroptila from the Greek for “stiff feathers” and levaillantoides from the Latin meaning “like levaillantii” – referring to Scleroptila levaillantii which is the scientific name of the Red-winged francolin. Thus we have “a stiff-feathered bird that looks like a Red-winged francolin”. Which underlines what I said in the first paragraph, the Scleroptila francolins look very similar.