Walking through the veld anywhere in Namibia or in the semi-arid western parts of South Africa it is not unusual to be attracted to a melodious and bubbling song issuing from the depths of some small tree or bush. Finding the bird responsible for this entertaining diversion, though, may be somewhat difficult if the culprit is the Chestnut-vented tit-babbler. Moving quickly through the thickets which are its favourite haunts, this little grey bird can be surprisingly difficult to spot in spite of its continuous calling.
A small bird with a length of just 14 cm, the Chestnut-vented tit-babbler is a dull grey above and also has a grey chest and belly, with a white throat that is quite heavily streaked with black. The diagnostic feature, though, is that chestnut-vent, which is often very conspicuous in the field. The eyes are white; the bill, legs and feet are black; the tail is also black but has a broad white band at the tip that is quite obvious when the bird is in flight. The sexes are alike in both plumage and size.
This common resident of southern Africa is most commonly found singly or in pairs in the thornveld and riverine bush as it forages restlessly through the branches of trees or bushes, gleaning off branches and leaves and calling often. In addition to its melodious song, it has a sharp “cherri-tik-tik” call that is the origin of its Afrikaans name – “Bosveld tjeriktik”. It feeds mainly on insects and spiders, but will also eat fruit, seeds and nectar. When moving from one tree to another its flight is usually low and direct.
Chestnut-vented tit-babblers are monogamous and build a nest of dried grass and small roots, lined with fine plant material and feathers. The female lays a clutch of two or three white eggs, spotted with brown, that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 14 days.
The scientific binomial for the Chestnut-vented tit-babbler is Parisoma subcaeruleum; Parisoma from the Latin for “a tit” and subcaeruleum from the Latin for “blue below”. Thus a tit which is blue below. Well, I would have though more grey than blue – and nary a mention of that gorgeous chestnut vent!