I was walking slowly along the edge of the large dam at Namibgrens, trying to get close enough to take a photograph of a pair of Dusky sunbirds that were feeding nearby, when a movement in the murky water a few metres from the edge of the dam caught my attention. I watched the movement in the water for a few seconds before it dawned on me what I was seeing amidst the tangle of plants in the water.
A Red-billed teal lay dead amongst the vegetation in the murky water and was being eaten by a small group of turtles!
The sunbirds were forgotten for the moment as I stood and watched in amazement as the turtles gathered, sometimes as many as five appearing to feed at the same time, pushing at the teal so that it twisted and turned in the water, sometimes presenting as just a pile of feathers, at other times its full duck-shape being obvious. In the gloom of the dirty water the turtles could only be seen when they were near the surface and there could have been more nudging the teal from below.
I watched several of the turtles swim away from the teal, only either to return after a short interval or to be replaced by others. It wasn’t therefore possible to see just how many turtles were taking advantage of this bonanza, but the most that were clearly in view simultaneously, either at the teal itself or swimming nearby, was seven.
I watched the activity for some time before I went back to trying to photograph the uncooperative Dusky sunbirds, but returned to the same spot the following morning to find no trace whatsoever of either the teal or the turtles. The teal could have been out of sight deep beneath the surface of the water, but there wasn’t so much as a feather to be seen.
I should imagine that the turtles were not instrumental in the death of the teal, as, although omnivorous turtles are known to feed on carrion, duck eggs, and even to take young ducklings, this had looked like an adult teal. I did, however come across this rather amazing video clip on You Tube of a turtle taking a pigeon, so who knows what is possible?
Take a look …