Tag Archives: francolins

Bird of the week – Week 44 : Orange River francolin

The four francolins of the genus Scleroptila, found mainly in the grassland areas of southern Africa, are a  confusingly similar group, with their white throats and brown speckled plumage. There are differences, however, and the fact that they are often to be found in different parts of the country does make identification somewhat less of a problem.

Orange River francolin

The Orange River francolin occupies mostly the north-western part of the southern African region, from northern and central Namibia, westwards across into Botswana and southwards into the northern part of South Africa. Within this range it is regarded as a fairly common resident of open grassland and dry savanna, usually found in pairs or in small coveys of up to ten or twelve birds.

Orange River francolin

They are quite often seen at the edge of the road, or scurrying down a gravel road or track ahead of the car and although the francolins are medium-sized with a length of around 33 cm, it is surprising how quickly they are able to disappear from view when entering a convenient patch of dry grass. Their cryptic colouring is a mottled pattern of black and brown that serves as effective camouflage in their chosen environment, and coupled to this is the fact that they are naturally shy and elusive. The sexes have similar plumage, with the males being slightly larger than the females.

Orange River francolin

Orange River francolins feed on bulbs and seeds, with some green shoots, berries and insects. Their call is a rapid kibitele, kibitele, kibitele that is repeated up to nine times.

Like most of the francolins and spurfowls, the Orange River francolins are monogamous. They nest in a scrape on ground that is lined with dry grass and is usually quite well hidden. The female lays a clutch approximately 4 or 5 yellowish-brown eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days.

Orange River francolin

The scientific name for the Orange River francolin is Scleroptila levaillantoides; Scleroptila from the Greek for “stiff feathers” and levaillantoides from the Latin meaning “like levaillantii” – referring to Scleroptila levaillantii which is the scientific name of the Red-winged francolin. Thus we have “a stiff-feathered bird that looks like a Red-winged francolin”. Which underlines what I said in the first paragraph, the Scleroptila francolins look very similar.

Bird of the week – Week 9 : Swainson’s spurfowl

Chicken-sized, brownish francolins and spurfowls are quite common in Namibia. Vaguely similar in size and build, closer examination quickly divides them up into several different species. The Swainson’s spurfowl distinguishes itself from its relatives by being brown overall, streaked with black, its bill dark above, red below; its face and throat red; its legs black. Sexes are alike in plumage, although the males are bigger than the females.
Swainson’s is a very common near-endemic resident of Southern Africa, and one that has managed to expand its range through its tolerance of humans and by adapting to areas under cultivation; it is now to be found in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola and Malawi. In Namibia it is found mainly in the northern half of the country, and prefers the highlands. Usually found in pairs or small groups, they are bold and quite conspicuous. The male calls very loudly, especially at dawn and at dusk; a harsh crowing, krrraa krrraa krrraa, repeated 6-7 times and reducing in volume towards end of the series. He often calls while perched conspicuously on a fence post, tree stump or other elevated spot.
They are found in grass and thickets, on cultivated lands, in riverine bush, and around vleis and dams, in pairs or in small coveys of up to 8 birds. Generally the Swainson’s feed in open fields on seeds, berries, shoots, roots, bulbs, insects, snails and slugs and will seek cover in dense vegetation when disturbed. They usually drink in both the  morning and the evening. In spite of spending most of their time on the ground, they fly strongly and are quite agile in flight.
Swainson’s spurfowl are monogamous and territorial. The females lay a clutch of 4 to 12 eggs in a hollow in the ground in the grassveld or bushveld that is  lined with dry grass and leaves. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of about 24 days.
The scientific name for the Swainson’s spurfowl is Pternistis swainsonii;  pternistis from the Greek meaning “one who trips from the heel”, perhaps referring to the spurs of the male; and swainsonii after William Swainson (1789-1855), the British naturalist, artist, and author.