A Wider View – Birds

The bird parade is non-stop. Oyster catchers, a threatened species, frequently patrol at low tide to prise limpets from the rocks with their dagger beaks. Egyptian geese (they pose above their station, they are actually ducks) vie with gulls and starlings for vantage points on the boulders, cackling to distraction. Hadedas or green ibis stalk silently across the lawns prodding their long bills deep for insects, making terrific noise when they fly up in alarm.

When Fundi Dor goes out in the morning to hang the bird feeder (an earthenware thing with small holes which allow nectar drinkers to dip in their long thin beaks) from a branch she is immediately swamped by an avian circus. When the proteas are not in bloom the dominant are the sugarbirds with tails up to twice their own length, which swarm in so boldly they land on her hands to be in first.

When the level of the water lightly flavoured with sugar and honey falls below their reach, the orange-breasted sunbirds take over with their thinner beaks, their throats pulsing as they pump up juice with their tongues. They are among the most beautiful birds in the world with their golden breasts, dazzling royal blue shoulders and shining green caps – winged gems no jeweller could emulate. Cheeky white-eyes bob about constantly between them trying to get a beak in edgeways.

For a few hours every day the bird feeder is the scene of hectic activity watched longingly from the ground by mongeese unable to get up there – for the birds, not the nectar.

Everyone has their favourites. Mine are the cormorants. We have three kinds we see regularly, the Cape, the bank and the whitebreasted.

Cape cormorants are by far the most numerous. They fly past us in their thousands, sometimes tens of thousands when they may take an hour or more to pass. They are perfection in symmetry to behold, skimming the water at smooth speed in narrow, V-shaped formations of anything from a few dozen to hundreds – like long lines of musical notes strung across a page of sea. The leader of each formation cuts the air for the rest to ride his slipstream. They change position regularly as the leader tires and drops back to let another take over. They are all identical in shape and size.

Sometimes a bigger bank cormorant flies with them or a formation of banks joins the Cape cormorant skein. The whitebreasted do their own individualistic thing.

All seem to share one mystifying talent: knowing when and where to go to find fish. Sometimes several days may pass without a single cormorant in sight. Then suddenly early in the morning the air is full of them all heading south towards Cape Point and the ocean beyond, often having to battle against strong southerly winds.

What tells them there are schools of fish out there for the taking? When the schools are in the bay and the dolphins and gannets are making a visible fuss it’s obvious, but when the fish are kilometres offshore? We haven’t yet found anyone who can explain this.

Do they use scouts? We often see a few cormorants flying back home in the opposite direction to the masses. Who knows.

To be continued /_


2 thoughts on “A Wider View – Birds

    • oururbanwilderness February 13, 2015 / 8:06 am

      True! And we’re lucky to have such colourful little beauties in our gardens.


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