African Bird FAQ

© Taking Flight © Richard Miller

Africa has one of the most diverse ranges of bird species in the world. There are 3 major categories of birds, namely seed-eaters, nectar-feeders and predatory raptors. Smaller seed-eating birds are adapted with small bills or beaks to forage, whilst predators have sharp claws and beaks to tear into their prey.

The Kruger National Park is home to most of South Africa's raptors. Vultures occur most in central grasslands, while eagles prefer mixed woodlands along drainage lines where prey is more abundant.

Why do birds migrate?

The main reason for migration is for a better food source, which is reached in warmer climates. The supply of food (mostly bugs and insects) in their country of origin becomes limited as their climate becomes colder. The need for energy (for breeding) compels them to migrate over great distances to other continents.

What is the difference between doves and pigeons?

Actually, there is no technical difference between doves and pigeons as they belong to the same family. We use their size difference to distinguish between them, with the dove being the smaller of the two. The pigeon belongs to a sub-family of which only green parrot-like pigeons are actually called pigeons, the common pigeon that we see is actually also a dove. For convenience purposes, we'll just keep calling it a pigeon.

Why does a woodpecker peck?

Woodpecker's do this to look for worms or any invertebrate food under the bark. They also make these holes for nests and to communicate with other woodpeckers.

Is there a difference between geese and ducks?

Similarly to the 'dove and pigeon' dilemma, a goose is actually a duck. They are members of the same family, along with the swan, but have been so named many years ago for mere convenience. Geese were named separately as it was seen to be something between a duck and a swan. It seems that the only behavioural difference between geese and ducks is their nesting habits, with the goose nesting in tree-holes.

Can vultures hunt?

Although they are physically capable of doing so, their talons and toes aren't as agile as those of the other birds of prey. Vultures are gregarious birds who are able to dominate and intimidate in numbers and thus don't always need to hunt. There are some vulture species that are capable of killing small vertebrates like rodents and even antelope fawns.

Do owls actually hoot?

No, owls don't 'hoot' but rather whistle, screech or croak. These sounds are made when an owl exhales and are a means of advertisement or communication. It has been found that calling occurs most before egg-laying and nesting.

What are the differences between falcons and eagles?

The falcon is a pointed-wing bird that hunts in the air. They do not build their own nests, but rather use that of other raptors or none at all. The eagle has unfeathered legs with many scales and a reversable outer toe. They build their own nests in which their young are left while they search for prey.

Why do birds of prey soar?

Soaring is common amongst most birds and is fueled by thermals. These are currents of rising warm air from the earth that the birds maintain the surface of their wings against to save energy and keep them elevated. The circling motion that you see from the ground occurs when the bird tries to stay in motion with the currents. This also provides the birds with a view of far distances, thus the impression that they appear from 'nowhere'.
Kruger National Park - South African Safari