The range of the Swamp boubou in southern Africa is restricted to the northern river systems of Namibia and Botswana, and within this area it is very likely to be heard before it is seen. Although it is fairly common, it is a shy, skulking bird and occupies well-vegetated areas along rivers, streams and flood plains.
The Swamp boubou is very vocal, the distinctive call is usually a duet initiated by the male calling a whistling “whhaww” to which the female immediately responds with a rattling “kiki-kaka-krrr”. The two birds call so closely together it sounds almost as though it is a single bird. The pair will often sit close together on a fairly exposed perch while calling.
The Swamp boubou is quite a big shrike, having a length of approximately 25 cm and the sexes are alike in both size and plumage coloration. The upper parts and the tail are glossy black, the under parts are white, and they have a distinctive white wing-stripe. Eyes are dark brown; bill is black; legs and feet are bluish-grey.
Swamp boubous feed mainly on insects, which they hunt on the ground or glean from trees and other vegetation, and also on fruit.
They are monogamous and make a nest in the shape of a shallow bowl, constructing it from twigs and roots. It is usually placed two or three metres above the ground in quite dense vegetation. The female lays a small clutch of as few as two greenish, speckled eggs and the incubation period is not known.
The scientific binomial for the Swamp boubou is Laniarius bicolor; Laniarius from the Latin for “butcher”; and bicolor from the Latin for “two coloured”. Thus the name describes a two coloured butcher, of which at least the two colours is totally accurate.
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!