Tag Archives: Chrysococcyx caprius

Bird of the week – Week 63: Great sparrow

At first glance the Great sparrow looks like a slightly overgrown House sparrow (Passer domesticus), being approximately sixteen cm in length, but a closer look will show a few differences that distinguish the two from each other, besides the small difference in size.  The Great sparrow has a grey crown; brown upperparts with a rufous rump and white underparts; it has a smaller black bib and a heavier bill than the House sparrow.  Its preferred habitat, too, is different and it is found mainly in woodlands and dry acacia bushveld while the House sparrow is seldom to be found far from human habitation.

Great sparrow

The male Great sparrows are slightly larger than the females, and the sexes also differ slightly in their plumage.  They feed mainly on seeds and also on insects which they gather while hopping about on the ground or from the foliage of trees and bushes.  They are near endemic to the southern African region.

Great sparrow

I’m not sure if Great sparrows are particularly vain birds or if it is pure co-incidence that on several occasions while out camping we have found both males and females of the species pecking at their reflections, sometimes seen in a shiny kettle, or in the rear-view mirrors of our car.  At the campsite at Palmwage one female was so peristent in the pecking of her likeness that we eventually covered the mirrors to gain respite from the tapping!

Great sparrow

The Great sparrow is monogamous and builds an untidy nest, a hollow ball of grass with a side entrance, usually placed in a thorn tree.  The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days.  It is sometimes parasitized by the Diderick cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius).

Great sparrow

The scientific binomial for the Great sparrow is Passer motitensis; Passer from the Latin for a sparrow and motitensis from the Latin for Motito, the locality where the type specimen was found.  There is a town by this name in South Africa, located north-west of Kuruman, which falls into the range of the Great sparrow but I’m not sure if this is the area referred to in the bird’s sobriquet.

Great sparrow

 

Bird of the week – Week 55: Diderick cuckoo

At that time of the year when spring is moving towards summer, a new bird call, familiar from last year, is heard with growing frequency throughout most of southern Africa, excluding the really arid regions. A loud and persistent deed-deed-deed-deed-er-ick. This is the striking and distinctive call that gives the Diderick cuckoo its onomatopoetic name, which you may sometimes find written as “Diederik” or “Dideric”. It is the male who does the calling, energetically declaring his territory and no doubt letting the females know where he can be found.
Like most cuckoos, the Diderick cuckoo is heard more often than it is seen, although it is not quite as retiring as some of its relatives. It is a one of the smaller cuckoos, with a length of about 20 cm; green above and with whitish underparts. They have a broken white eyestripe, a green moustauchial stripe, and green outer tail feathers adorned with white spots. Eyes are red; the bill black and legs and feet grey.  Females differ slightly in plumage and are slightly larger than males.
It is generally a solitary bird and is found singly in open woodland and savanna, eschewing forests and plantations. In keeping with other cuckoos, the Diderick cuckoo is a brood parasite, although it is perhaps less discriminatory in its choice of host than  some, and has been known to parasitise at least 24 other species. The most common amongst these are the sparrows, weavers (including the bishops) and the wagtails, all of which are significantly smaller than the Diderick cuckoo, and are thus faced with an extremely challenging task when it come to feeding the hatchling.
Diderick cuckoos are intra-African migrants and arrive in southern Africa from central or east Africa in September/October and depart again in March/April. They feed mainly on caterpillars and insects.
Being a brood parasite is not a totally idyllic life, and while the males are letting the world know who and where they are with their characteristic call, the females must locate a suitable nest which is at the right stage in the breeding cycle, locate a male to mate with (this is the easy part!) and then enter the well guarded host’s nest undetected to lay her egg amongst the host’s clutch and then leave again. Not an easy task in view of the heightened alertness of all birds during the breeding period.
The scientific binomial of the Diderick cuckoo is Chrysococcyx caprius; Chrysococcyx from the Greek for a golden cuckoo, in reference to the metallic sheen of the plumage and caprius from the Latin for like a goat – a careless error as the spelling should have been cupreus from the Latin for like copper. By the time the error was realized, cupreous had been given to the African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus) and so the inappropriate goat-reference was left . Thus we have a metallic cuckoo that looks like a goat. Oops! A metallic cuckoo that has a coppery sheen – that’s better.