When we lived in Namibia we were fortunate enough to come across a number of different kinds of waxbills and were always delighted when the colourful Blue and Violet-eared waxbills came to feed in our garden. We don’t see enough of these sweet little birds in our garden here in Durban for some strange reason, so imagine how pleased we were to have a chance to photograph Swee waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) during our visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town in December. We also saw Common waxbills whilst we were there, but, as their name suggests, they are fairly common, so our focus was on the Swees.
We followed a happy pair flitting about in the flowers, calling to each other with gentle ‘swee swee‘ sounds. They are easy to tell apart as the male’s cheeks and ear coverts are black, whilst the female has a pale grey face. Both have reddish orange tail markings and distinctive black upper and red lower mandibles.
They are mainly seed-eaters, but also forage on the ground or on plant stems for small insects and larvae. They’re mainly found in small groups or pairs, which are monogamous and territorial. When they are ready to breed (between October and April) the building of the nest is a team effort, with the male bringing in the material. According to Roberts Birds of S A, larger clutches of eggs are sometimes laid by two different males (between three and nine eggs) at one day intervals. Both parents are involved in the incubation and the feeding.
It certainly was a treat to see these lovely little birds in such a nice setting and to be able to add a few more photos to our collection.
Last week I posted some photographs of the Orange-breasted sunbirds that we saw at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. This week their cousins take centre stage; the beautiful Southern double-collared sunbirds, which flit amongst the Proteas and Ericas of Kirstenbosch gathering nectar and doing their bit for pollination. Also known as the Lesser double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) this little sunbird has a wider habitat than the Orange-breasted sunbird and, not being restricted to fynbos, is found further afield in the Karoo, and in the forests and gardens in the eastern parts of South Africa.
The sunbirds that we photographed here don’t have the familiar broad red breast band as they are in their eclipse plumage The adult males in the Western Cape moult in October to December, so we were probably just a little early to see these beautiful birds in their full finery. We often find birds quite a puzzle to identify when they aren’t dressed in their full colours.
Their diet mainly consists of nectar, which is drawn up after inserting their long curved bill into the corolla tube of the flower. If there is no tube, the bill is used to pierce the base of the flower. During this feeding pollen sticks to the bill and tongue and is transported to the next flower, allowing the bird to perform its pollinating function without any effort. These sunbirds don’t only rely on nectar for their nourishment, but also eat small invertebrates like beetles, insects, spiders and larvae.
Breeding pairs are monogamous and quite territorial during the breeding season. The female lays between one and three eggs that she incubates over a period of thirteen to sixteen days. The eggs are oval and vary enormously in colour. Nests are occasionally parasitised by Klaas’s Cuckoo, which, as you can imagine, must have these little sunbirds worn out finding food for their ever-hungry and much larger adoptees!
The flowers at Kirstenbosch certainly provide a beautiful backdrop for enjoying these happy little birds. Next time I’ll blog about the waxbills that we saw in the same area.