Tag Archives: thick-knee

Bird of the week – Week 27 : Water thick-knee

Previously known as a “dikkop” from the Afrikaans for “thick-head”, I suppose the recent change to “thick-knee” could be seen as a small improvement! Its relatives in some parts of the world, though, are known as “stone-curlews”, which somewhat less derogatory of the birds intelligence or physique. On the other hand, one of its relatives is apparently called a “goggle-eyed plover”, so it could be worse.
The Water thick-knee is a plover-like bird with a length of about 40 cm and a wingspan of about 200 cm when fully grown. The sexes are alike;  streaked dark brown on light brown over the upper body, with grey wing bars that are conspicuous when the bird is not flying. The underparts are lighter in colour and the birds are streaked with brown on the chest. The eyes are yellow or pale green; the bill is black and the legs and feet a greenish-grey.
Locally common, the Water thick-knee is found in the wetter eastern parts of Southern Africa, and in Namibia is limited to the wetter extreme northern part of the country. They are generally found along rivers or at dams, lakes, swamps or on beaches, where they feed on termites, insects, molluscs, small fish, and crustaceans.
They are usually solitary birds, found in pairs when breeding but may also be found in small flocks when not breeding. They are mainly nocturnal or crepuscular but may be quite vocal in full daylight, calling with a mournful “ti-ti-ti”. Although they can fly strongly, they seem to prefer to run than to fly when disturbed.
Water thick-knees are monogamous and their nest is no more that a scrape in the sand, usually hidden amongst stones or bushes on the bank of a river or dam, usually quite close to the water. The female lays a clutch of two pale cream-coloured eggs that may be marked with brown splotches and that hatch after an incubation period of around 24 days.
The scientific name for the Water thick-knee is Burhinus vermiculatus; “Burhinus” from the Greek meaning a huge nose and “vermiculatus” from the Latin for vermiculated (which, in simple English means “decorated with wormlike tracery or markings”). According to its name, then, a bird with a large beak and which is decorated with wormlike tracery or markings.