|Know your wildlife - By Violah Makuvaza|
|Saturday, 11 August 2012 13:57|
Woodhoopoes (inhlekabafazi, haya)
TWO out of the eight species of woodhoopoes are found throughout Zimbabwe. These are the Redbilled and the Scimitarbilled woodhoopoes. The Ndebele name is derived from their loud cackling noise, which starts off slowly then crescendo, when several Redbilled woodhoopoes call together this is likened to the laughter of women. The calling of the Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe is somewhat mournful.
The woodhoopoes have a long, slender, decurved bill. Their legs are very short, toes are longish with sharp, curved claws, the wings are rounded and the tail is long and graduated. The plumage is black with blue, purple or green gloss, and it has white patches on the wings and tail. The Redbilled woodhoopoe have bill, legs and feet being scarlet in colour. It has white spots on the wing front feathers (primaries) and white barring on the tail feathers (rectrices) which are visible in flight. They have a very unpleasant smell. The Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe has bill, legs and feet which are black. The beak is more curved than in the Redbilled woodhoopoe. It has a bold white bar on each primary which forms a white stripe in flight. The outer three rectrices have bold white spots near the tip. The female resembles the male but is smaller and has a brownish throat and grey tips to flight-feathers.
The woodhoopoes prefer the Acacia thornveld, mixed woodland, dry savanna, edges of evergreen forest, riverine bush, exotic plantations, gardens and parks. The Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe inhabits drier savanna areas than the Redbilled woodhoopoe although the two are sometimes found close together.
Climbing and Feeding
The woodhoopoes forage mostly by clambering about branches of trees, probing into loose bark and fissure. They use the tail as prop for support and it becomes very worn as the birds scramble up trunks, often dropping in stages, checking with tail. The Redbilled woodhoopoe also feed on the ground in dry season and hawks termite alates in flight. It probes nests of other birds probably for insect larvae. It is usually restless and noisy. Their food is mostly arthropods probed out of crevices in bark and wood. The Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe sometimes forages on ground and often hanging upside down while probing with bill in bark using the lower jaw only and the bill open. It feeds on insects and their larvae, ants, flies, spiders, seeds, buds and nectar. After feeding in treetop it descends in glide to lower parts of next tree. It is usually silent when feeding.
Breeding and Nesting
The nest of the woodhoopoes is an unlined natural hole in a tree, or usually an old nest hole of barbet or woodpecker. The Redbilled woodhoopoe breeds in all months but mainly September to October and may rear two broods in a season. The nest is found at 1-22m above ground. The clutch size is 2-5 pale olive green to turquoise blue eggs. The eggs have fine white pores and are incubated by the female only for 18 days the nestling is fed for 30 days by parents and up to three helpers, as well as possibly by young from previous brood. The Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe’s breeding season is August to December. Its clutch is 2-4 greenish blue eggs with distinct white pores.The incubation takes 15-17 days by the female only and the nestling is fed by both parents for 23-24 days. The nestling retains feather sheaths, especially on head, until nearly ready to leave the nest. Their nestling hisses and sways when threatened, it defaecates foul-smelling fluid if handled.
The woodhoopoes usually fly in loose formation from tree to tree and may bow and fan tail while calling. These callings accompany group display where the birds rock back and forth with lowered heads. The Scimitarbilled woodhoopoe roosts vertically on bark of treetrunk at night. It is usually solitary or in pairs and sometimes in a small family group. The Redbilled woodhoopoe is gregarious and usually in groups of 3-9 but can be up to 16 birds and only one breeding pair is included. They roost in very restricted nest-holes.
l Violah Makuvaza is an Ornithology Curator at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe
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