Alpine Swift R 418 Witpenswindswael
A very large, brown swift with a diagnostic white belly and throat separated by a dark brown breast band. Its flight is fast, swift and direct, with deep beats of long scythe-like wings. The upper parts of this swift is uniform olive-brown, forehead paler than crown with blackish eye patch, chin and throat white. It has a black bill and dark brown eyes. The legs and feet pinkish horn.
“ The Alpine Swifts are probably the grandest fliers in the world “ is how Dr. Leonard Gill described this bird in what was the first field guide to South African birds, published in 1936.. Those of us who’ve had the thrill of watching them at close quarters, swooping falcon-like past their colony, can only marvel at their effortless mastery of the air. It is estimated in Europe that they cover up to 1,000 km in the course of a day’s foraging. In South Africa they forage over a wide range of habitats, particularly alpine grasslands close to their mountainous breeding areas.
They are distributed in the Iberian Peninsula and north west Africa, east along the Mediterranean to Kazakhstan and west India, also in the western Arabian Peninsula and in west and east Africa to southern Africa. They are wide spread in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, absent from the semi-desert regions. They often fall prey to Lanner and Peregrine Falcons.
They are gregarious and typically flies very high, drinks in flight by skimming water surface. Their call is shrill, chattering screams.
It is an intra-African migrant, common resident in South Africa during summer. They are often in large, mixed flocks with other swifts. Contrary to the claim, that it is just a breeding visitor to South Africa, this swift is actually found here all year, however South African birds do occur in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
Their diet consists of aerial insects and spiders. Observations on the feeding behaviour of the Alpine Swift, revealed that their main source of food are bees. An adult when about to feed a chick usually regurgitates its food ball, one of these contained only bees, many of them still alive, but immobilised by the sticky saliva. They’ve been described as voracious feeders on honey bees, however they do eat a wide variety of arthropods. It is unlikely that this swift is able to rid bees of their stings in flight, and are thus presumably immune to bee venom.
The Alpine Swift breeds in Mountainous areas in small colonies, on high inland cliffs with vertical cracks, laying one to two eggs in cliff crevices, occasionally also on buildings. In Europe it often nests on buildings, where the relatively short summer permits them to only breed once before migrating to northern Africa. Nesting on buildings in South Africa is uncommon, but they’ve decided that the 25 storey Provincial Government building in Bloemfontein, with its granite chip coating is a suitable substitute for a cliff.
Nests are reused in successive seasons, the oldest recorded at a colony in South Africa was 17 years, quite impressive for a bird weighing less than 100 g. A ringed Alpine Swift in Europe recorded 26 years.They are monogamous and colonial breeders. Their nests are glued with saliva to sides of vertical cracks in cliffs. The nest is built by both sexes with material gathered in flight. The nest bowl comprises a dense pad of feathers and plant material.
One to two pure white eggs per clutch, laid from September to January. Both sexes incubate for 20 days, nestlings brooded and fed by both aduls. The nestling period is in the region of 50 days, varying with weather conditions.
The Alpine Swift is not a threatened species.
Red-eyed Dove R 352 Grootringduif
A familiar garden bird in most of its Southern African range. The Red-eyed Dove has a high tolerance of habitat transformation, and indeed seems to have benefitted from land use change. In South Africa these birds are widely distributed, found mainly in the north-east, east and south, avoiding the arid parts of the Kalahari Basin and the western Karoo.
Over the last century the species’ range have spread dramatically through the planting of exotic trees, especially into highveld regions and suburbia of Gauteng, Lesotho and parts of the Free State. Recent colonisation patterns suggest dispersal across unsuitable habitat to towns and villages of Karoo. They are largely resident with some poorly understood seasonal movements.
It is the largest ‘grey‘ dove in the region. Overall dark purplish grey, paler pinkish grey below. Head pale grey, with obvious whitish forehead, grey hind neck with a black collar. Upper tail grey with a broad grey band across mid-tail, only dove in the region with no white in the tail. Bill black, cere powdery grey. Eyes orange to red, bare skin around eye dull purplish red. Legs and feet red. Sexes alike.
They are fairly common throughout their range. Found in suitable habitat in many parts of Africa south of the Sahara. Has adapted to city gardens and open parks.
Their call is a far-carrying syncopated series of deep cooing phrases “ kooROOkuku, KOO ku ‘’, repeated without pause several times, with emphasis on the first two notes. When selecting a nest site, both sexes give “ Krooooo-oo-oo “ song.
They occur in well developed woodlands, riverine and gallery forests, also alien plantations and thickets. Usually solitary or in pairs, sometimes in flocks at grain spills or groundnut harvests. Drinks regularly. Flight heavy, strong and direct, lands more heavily than other doves. The Red-eyed Dove has benefitted from human modifications to natural habitat.
Forages on ground, frequently under trees. Eats dry seeds, including grasses, maize, millet, sorghum, cowpeas and sunflower. Seeds from alien Castor Oil bush and other alien Acacias also in their diet. Also nut grass bulblets, groundnuts, small fruits of Pigeonwood, White-ironwood and alien Cherry-pie and Mulberry. Can swallow large items, including groundnuts complete with shell. In Western Cape, feeds on discarded apple pulp at juice-extraction factories. Seldom eats invertebrates, except emerging termite alates.
The Red-eyed Dove is monogamous, territorial, solitary nester, and mates for life. Territory occupied by same pair for long periods, vigorously defended by the male. In courtship, male flies up steeply in towering display, then glides down at low angle, with wings and tail outspread. Sometimes gives one or two flaps with wings during glide before landing on perch. In bowing display, male inflates throat and neck, bobs forepart of body. Display culminates with male holding head so that pale forehead is fully shown, with middle part of black collar concealed. Reciprocal allopreening noted during courtship.
They breed year round, mainly September to January, peaks vary from region to region. The nest is built by the female, using nesting material brought by male, who collects sticks from the ground or broken from trees. The nest is built on a horizontal tree fork, three to four metres above ground, is a fairly substantial platform of twigs with a shallow central depression, lined with grass, pine needles and other fine soft material.
The usual clutch is 1 or 2 white eggs with a slight gloss. The incubation of 16 days is shared by both sexes. Brooding and nestling period of 17 to 20 days are performed by both adults, who feed young by regurgitation. Nestlings fall prey to African Goshawks and Pied Crows.
Despite eating a wide range of crop seeds, Red-eyed Doves are not considered agricultural problem birds because most of the seeds they eat have fallen from plants or are spillages from grain carriers. Common and often encountered in Hartbeespoort.