Although grouped into the larger family that includes the Starlings and Mynas, oxpeckers are really rather different and have adapted well to their unusual feeding arrangements. They have strong feet with sharp claws and short legs for clinging on to the large ungulates on which they usually feed, and their bills are flattened to facilitate this feeding. Their tails are fairly long and stiff to assist in maintaining their often upright feeding positions.
Yellow-billed oxpeckers are medium-sized birds, with a length of approximately 20 cm, and the sexes are alike in both size and plumage colouration. They have dark brown heads, throats, backs and tails, with lighter coloured under parts; eyes are red; legs and feet black; bills have a yellow base and a red tip.
Yellow-billed oxpeckers are considered to be “Vulnerable” and their range has shrunk considerably in recent years. They prefer areas of open woodland and are restricted to those areas in which cattle and other ungulates are present. In the southern African region they are found in northern Namibia and Botswana, and in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
They feed on ticks and blood and mucous which they garner from their hosts, but also sometimes on insects. In the Kruger Park we have seen them perched on antelope, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, and rhino, and they seem to be well tolerated by the majority of their hosts.
Their call is a hissing “kruss, kruss”.
Yellow-billed oxpeckers are monogamous and usually nest in tree cavities which they line with grass or with hair plucked from the host animals. The female lays a clutch of two or three white eggs which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 13 days.
The scientific binomial for the Yellow-billed oxpecker is Buphagus africanus; Buphagus from the Latin for “eater of oxen”; and africanus from the Latin for “from Africa”. Thus we have an African bird that feeds on oxen, which is a pretty good description really.
In the drier areas of southern Africa, particularly in the semi-desert of the Kalahari spreading from Namibia into Botswana and central South Africa, the Double-banded courser is not an uncommon sight. Preferring open plains with short grass and the bare ground of dry pans, they are fairly easy to see, although their cryptic colouring provides limited camouflage. Because of their preferred habitat they seem to have benefitted from the overgrazing and erosion which has increased the availability of this habitat. They are largely absent from the wetter eastern side of the region.
Males and females are alike in both size and plumage colouration. The two breast bands are very distinctive. Head and neck are pale sandy-brown, finely streaked with black; back and wings are brown; under parts are pale sandy-brown becoming white on the belly; bills are black; legs and feet greyish-white; eyes are dark brown.
They feed mainly on ants, termites, and beetles, which they pick from the ground while walking, preferring to feed in the early morning and late evening. They are, to some extent, nocturnal and may feed during the night, especially when the moon is bright.
The call of the Double-banded courser is a whistled “peeu-weee“, although it also has an assortment of alarm calls and also courtship calls.
Double-banded coursers are usually found singly or in pairs. They are monogamous and the female lays a single egg directly on the ground, without the benefit of a nest, although a ring of pebbles or animal dung may designate the site. The egg hatches after and incubation period of approximately 26 days and the chick is able to leave the “nest”after 24 hours, which is probably a good thing under the circumstances!
The scientific binomial for the Double-banded courser is Rhinoptilus africanus; Rhinoptilus from the Greek for “feathered nostril” and africanus from the Latin for “from Africa”. Thus a bird from Africa with feathered nostrils.
The Brubru is a fairly unobtrusive shrike that is quite difficult to see clearly as it hops about in the thickly leaved tree canopies that it favours. It is found through most of sub-Saharan Africa, and in the southern African region it is absent only from the south. It is found in open woodland areas, prefering areas with large, leafy trees. We have often seen it at campsites in Namibia, although usually just a snatched glimpse through a screen of branches and leaves. It is usually found singly or in pairs and is a fairly small shrike, with a length of around 15 cm.
The adult male has a black crown; white supercilium and a black eye-stripe; the back is black with a tawny stripe, the rump is black but with a white tip and white edges to the outer feathers. The under parts are white and it has rufous flanks. The female, which is similar in size, has duller black upperparts and less rufous colouring on the flanks.
The Brubru is insectivorous and gleans insects from the leaves and twigs in the upper and mid canopy of large trees. It will occasionally hawk insects in mid-air. The call of the male, usually made from a perch high up in a tree, is a loud “preeeeee“, and pairs may call in duet, with the female responding to the male’s call with a softer “eeeu“.
Brubrus are monogamous and build a cup nest of twigs and grass in the forked branches of a tree and hide it well, often camouflaging it with clumps of lichen. The female lays a clutch of two or three greenish eggs that are blotched with green or brown, and which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 19 days.
The scientific binomial for the Brubru is Nilaus afer; Nilaus has a rather odd derivation – it is an anagram of Lanius, the genus of true shrikes, and afer is from the Latin for “from Africa”. Thus a shrike from Africa, which is an apt description for dozens of species!