Basic birding and tricking others to raise your young

For the last week we've had a Professional Field Guide course in camp completing their Basic Birding course. Cara Pring managed to tag along and this is what she has learnt about birding.


Birding is definitely not easy. So far I can identify the red-headed weaver, the red-crested korhaan, the red-chested cuckoo and the red-backed shrike (among others). That’s a lot of red-related birds and given I’ve learnt that in the space of about a week (after just a couple of activities), you can rest assured there’s plenty of other red birds out there, ready to confuse wannabe-birders further. This group alone have seen and heard over 100 birds just over these past few days. Imagine being able to tell 100 birds apart using both sight and sound. I felt pretty proud of myself for knowing the difference between a duiker, impala, nyala and kudu. Well, not anymore.

It’s pretty amazing how the guides know so many birds and calls – particularly all the little ones that truthfully look all the same to me. I feel pretty bad about it, but seriously…  they look the same. It would probably help if I had binoculars I guess. I’m a crazy enthusiastic birder, as you can tell.


But even by getting the smaller glimpses that I did, my interest in birds has definitely been piqued (perhaps just slightly… they are still JUST birds. Sorry Ross). I have already started finding myself looking more into trees, and listening to the myriad of different bird calls as we walk/drive/hang out in camp. I spotted and identified a juvenile black-chested snake eagle the other day which I was pretty chuffed about. And then there’s all the cool birds around camp, many of them making their nests. The Collared Sunbirds are definitely a favourite of mine, although it’s a bit annoying how the female does ALL THE WORK building the nest (watch the video), while the male just flits about being generally useless. Oh and the African Pygmy Kingfisher I saw on my first day hanging out at the bird bath was pretty special too.


I think the most interesting part for me has been learning about Brood Parasitism. Basically there are some birds out there who are so lazy and adverse to raising their young that they trick other birds into doing it for them. They sneakily duck in when the other birds aren’t looking, lay an egg in their nest that looks just like their eggs and then run away again! Sometimes they even get rid of one of the bird’s eggs that were already there, so the other bird doesn’t even realise a new egg has been introduced. SO SNEAKY BUT SO SMART. This poor other bird then gets tricked (or bullied) into raising the parasitic bird’s babies until the kids leave the nest AND DO IT AGAIN TO SOME OTHER UNSUSPECTING POOR BIRDS. What is even crazier is that they continue to know to do this even though they were never really ‘shown’ because they don’t have any contact with their biological parents. Seriously, do a google search on Brood Parasitism. It’s so interesting.   I thought it was all pretty crazy, interesting, super smart but also a bit sad. I wonder if the tricked birds realise what has happened, or if they just think that one of their kids is a bit on the special side?

I guess only they know. What is for sure is that birds are a darn sight more interesting than I ever realised. They aren’t just stupid birds after all!


These students were doing their basic birding as part of the Professional Field Guide (one year) course, but you can also do a  Birding in the Bush one week course at the stunning Makuleke camp in North Kruger if you just want to learn a bit more about our feathered friends