Arrow-marked babblers, like the other babblers in the region, are usually heard before they are seen. Noisy birds, they have a harsh chatter, a bubbling “na, na, na…” often uttered by many birds at the same time and which can be heard from quite a distance.
They are medium sized birds, with a length of about 24 cm and derive their name from the plumage on their head and breast, which is brownish-grey with white tips to the feathers that give the characteristic “arrow-marked” effect. The back and tail are a darker brown and the belly lighter. The bill, legs and feet are black and the eyes are two-toned, having a red outer rim and a yellow centre. The males and females are alike in both size and plumage.
Arrow-marked babblers are common throughout large parts of Africa, but within the southern African region they are largely limited to the north-east, their preferred habitat being semi arid woodland and moist shrublands.
They are quite social birds and are usually found in small groups of four to twelve birds. They forage low down in the undergrowth or on the ground and feed mainly on insects, spiders and small reptiles; also taking some fruit and seeds.
Arrow-marked babblers are monogamous and co-operative breeders, building an untidy cup-shaped nest of twigs and dry grass lined with finer material. This is usually placed in thick vegetation well above the ground. The female lays a clutch of three to five blue eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days. The nest may be parasitized by the Levaillant’s cuckoo (Clamator levaillantii).
The scientific binomial for the Arrow-marked babbler is Turdoides jardineii; Turdoides from the Latin for “like a thrush”; and jardineii after the naturalist Sir William Jardine. Not a very descriptive name without a mention of the distinctive plumage or the two-tone eyes!