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Image credit: Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia famosa, male Derek Keats

Over 90 bird species have been recorded at the Oliewenhuis koppie and gardens, making it a bird lover’s paradise. The Oliewenhuis Art Museum is situated on Grant’s Hill in Bloemfontein and is surrounded by 12 acres of natural vegetation. The Oliewenhuis koppie stretches right up to the boundary fence on top of the hill. It has four well marked walking trails through the unspoilt natural surroundings.

The woody vegetation of the koppie area and the garden attract a large variety of bird species to Oliewenhuis. The koppies are an excellent resource for the Ornithology Department of the National Museum. A number of studies on the birds have been conducted, including bird ringing studies. Bird ringing demonstrations are also conducted periodically for school and university learners.

Over a thousand birds have been ringed at the Oliewenhuis koppies since 1988. These include common species and some not so common species. The bird ringing data collected over the period is a valuable research and educational resource. It represents a rich data source for bird population demography and life history. This includes site fidelity and longevity records in birds represented by the more than 60 recaptures that have been made. The oldest bird recaptures obtained from Oliewenhuis were those of a Cape Sparrow recaptured after 85 months (about 7 years) and an African Red-eyed Bulbul after 108 months (9 years).  These recapture data show that most of the resident birds at Oliewenhuis stay for long periods or have established territories there.

10 common birds that can be observed at Oliewenhuis

  • Hadeda Ibis (Hadeda) Bostrychia hagedash

Image credit: Hadeda Ibis eggs by Roger Culos

The Hadeda can be identified by its brown body plumage with iridescent pink shoulders and decurved bill.  Its vocalization is characteristic of this species: a raucous “ha! ha-ha ..”  especially vocalising in flight or when disturbed. They occur in small family groups and can mostly be seen feeding on grassy lawns like those at Oliewenhuis.  Their nest is a small platform of sticks mostly in large trees, and up to 3 nestlings can be raised in a breeding attempt.

  • Laughing Dove (Rooiborsduifie) Streptopelia senegalensis

Image credit: Laughing dove nest on an olive tree by Bilel Hawari

The Laughing Dove is one of our smaller dove species and can be identified by its pinkish head and cinnamon breast with black spots and, when in flight, its white outer tail feathers. This species is common in both garden and woody vegetation like the Olive tree- dominated hills at Oliewenhuis. It is also one of the most frequent dove species captured during ringing sessions.  They make a small base of thin sticks on a branch of a tree and mostly lay 2 pure white eggs.  Breeding occurs all year round.

  • Ring-necked Dove (Gewone Tortelduif) Streptopelia capicola

Image credit: Ring-necked Dove by Yathin S Krishnappa

The Ring-necked Dove is the most well-known dove with its characteristic “work harder, work harder …” call repeated several times.  This species can be identified by the black collar on its neck and with a very grey to sooty coloured plumage.  Its outer tail feathers are also white when in flight and during display flights in the air.  It occurs abundantly in both cultivated and natural vegetation like the bush hills at Oliewenhuis.  Their breeding behaviour is similar to that of Laughing Doves and the nest is a platform of sticks on the branch of a tree, on which they lay 2 pure white eggs.

  • Greater Striped Swalllow (Groot Streepswael) Cecropis cucculata

Image credit: Greated Striped Swallow nest built of mud pellets by JMK

This swallow species is an intra-Africa migrant from central and northern Africa, which spends spring and summer here between September and mid-May. Greater Striped Swallows can be identified by their chestnut cap, pale chestnut rump and streaked underparts which from above appears almost white. This is an aerial insect- feeding bird which catches its food mostly in flight.  This species is also known for building its nests from mud and plastered with a tunnel entrance under eves of buildings doors and below roofs.  It was believed (and proven by ringing studies) that a nesting pair at a nest site does return to its breeding site the following season.

  • African Red-eyed Bulbul (Rooioogtiptol) Pycnonotus nigricans

Image credit: African Red- eyed Bulbul by Charles J Sharp

This bulbul species, also called “Toppies” or “Bottergat” due to their characteristic bright yellow vent feathers under their tail is also common at Oliewenhuis. They mostly vocalize with cheerful, chattering calls and occur in small family groups.  The Red-eyed Bulbul, with its fleshy red eye-ring around the eye, is more a western species and well adapted to suburban gardens.  At Oliewenhuis they are also one of the more frequently ringed bird species (about 200 ringed) at the koppies and in the garden.  They mostly forage on berries and sometimes when the olive tree berries are ripe, several birds will congregate at these food sources.

  • Cape Robin-chat (Gewone Janfrederik) Cossypha caffra

Image credit: Cape Robin nest by JMK

The Cape Robin-chat is a common species in gardens and other wooded vegetation, foraging for food by hopping around in loose leaves on the ground with its tail sometimes in an upward position.  This species has a white eyebrow with an orange upper breast and paler underparts.  They also have orange tail feathers on the rump area of its back which is an identification feature when in flight.  They have a pleasant and continuing song with the phrase “Jan-Frederik” repeated during its song.  They build a small cup- shaped nest in trees and low bushes.

  • Karoo Thrush (Geelbeklyster) Turdus smithii

Image credit: Karoo Thrush by Leonie Kellermann

The Karoo Thrush is one of our most common garden bird species which is adapted to the more western karoo and Kalahari areas. This species has a duller grey-brown plumage than the more olive coloured plumage of the closely related Olive Thrush, which has a more eastern distribution range. The Karoo Thrush also has a plain orange-yellow bill and legs with orange eye-ring.  They occur mostly in small groups in well wooded gardens and the males are mostly seen displaying with drooping wings and square tail dragging on the ground.  They are mostly insectivorous but also feed on berries, fruits and even dog food pellets at suburban habitats.

  • Orange River White-eye (Gariepglasogie) Zosterops pallidus

Image credit: Orange River White-eye by Andy Cowley

The Orange River White-eye is one of the most popular garden bird species apart from swallows and robins.  This smallish and greenish white-eye, with its cinnamon flanks, weighs a mere 10 grams and can be seen gleaning for small insects on tree branches sometimes hanging upside down.  They also forage on nectar from several nectar- bearing plants such as aloes, Cape honey-suckle and lions-ear (wild dagga). They occur in small groups and during winter can be seen in loose family groups and when flying, give their contact calls.  The white-eye is also one of the more frequent ringed bird species at Oliewenhuis. Over 260 individuals have been ringed there over the years.

  • Cape Sparrow (Gewone Mossie) Passer melanurus

Image credit: Cape Sparrow by Mikejunor

The Cape Sparrow is probably the most abundant garden bird in South Africa, occurring not only in and around gardens but also in industrial areas with buildings where there are scattered trees for nest sites.  They also occur in natural vegetation such as acacia savannah areas.  The males can be easily identified by their black and white head (the white in a C – form above and around their eyes) and reddish back and black bill.  Females have a greyer plumage with the “C” shape fainter and less prominent than in males.  When not breeding they can occur in large flocks and feed mainly on various forms of seed, especially those of cultivated pastures and around farming areas.  They mostly build nests in thorny or other trees which consist of a bundle of grass and sticks with a top side entrance.  The brood can be up to 5 nestlings to be successfully raised.

  • Southern Masked Weaver (Swartkeelgeelvink) Ploceus velatus

Image credit: Southern Masked-Weaver by Steve Evans

Southern Masked Weavers are known by their woven nests hanging from tree branches in small colonies where the males with their bright yellow plumage display at their nests during their breeding season.  Males are identifiable by their yellow plumage, black mask with a pointed shape on their breast and red eyes.  The females have slightly yellow plumage with redder eyes.  In the non-breeding season (winter) the males resemble the females.  They occur in gardens, thornveld and riverine areas where their nests mostly hang from trees on the banks over the streams or dams. These colonies can be large, with several nests in a colony.

Interesting bird species associated with the natural vegetation at Oliewenhuis

  • Helmeted Guineafowl (Gewone Tarentaal) Numida melearis

Image credit: Helmeted Guineafowl by New Jersey Birds

The Helmeted Guineafowl or Tarentaal in Afrikaans is one of the most popular and best-known bird species associated with farming areas. Guineafowl are distinguishable by their characteristic blue neck, red cap and the horny casque on their head.  Their plumage is a characteristic black with white spots.  They occur in small to large family groups (especially in winter months) running around scratching the soil for bulbs and other plant matter.  They lay a large clutch of up to 12 eggs which are white to pale brown with dark speckles well concealed in a grass tuft or in the base of a shrub in the grass. There are several flocks of this species in the Bloemfontein area, one of these occur at the Oliewenhuis gardens and can be seen foraging on the grass lawn during the early mornings or late afternoons.

  • Pririt Batis (Priritbosbontrokkie) Batis pririt

Image credit: Female Pririt Batis (Batis pririt) by Alan Manson

Batises are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the plumage of male and female birds differs.  Male Pririt Batis have a greyish crown, with a black mask on the face and a black breast-band, while the females have a pale buff throat and breast.  They can easily be identified by their call which is a long, sequencing of notes “peep-peep…choo-choo …”or sounding like “three blind mice”. They occur in the dry western thornveld areas of the Free State and also the olive tree- dominated hills in the Bloemfontein areas (such as Oliewenhuis).  They forage by gleaning insects from the tree branches and also will hawk insects out of the air with a clapping bill sound.  This species is also one of the interesting birds captured at Oliewenhuis during bird ringing demonstrations.

  • Long-billed Crombec (Bosveldstompstert) Sylvietta rufescens

Image credit: Long-billed crombec by Alan Manson

The Long-billed Crombec appears to be tailless when observed, and in fact the very short tail is no longer than its wing tip.  They have a tawny cinnamon belly with grey upper parts and long, slightly decurved bill. They prefer thornveld areas but also the olive tree- dominated areas around Bloemfontein.  At the koppies at Oliewenhuis they are regularly observed and also sometimes captured during bird ringing sessions.  They forage by gleaning for insects on tree branches and trunks sometimes hanging upside down and clambering among the branches searching for food.  Their diet consists mainly of invertebrates such as spiders, termites, beetles, insect eggs and also fruit and nectar of aloes.

  • Chestnut-vented Titbabbler (Bosveldtjeriktik) Parisoma subcaeruleum

Image credit: Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Parisoma subcaeruleum by Derek Keats

The Chestnut-vented Titbabbler can be identified by its pale eyes, heavily spotted throat and the bright chestnut colouration under its tail feathers.  This species occurs in thornveld and also the olive tree- dominated hills in the Bloemfontein and Oliewenhuis koppies. They can mostly been located when foraging for insects while moving quickly in the foliage of trees. Their diet consists of small insects such as beetles, termites, fruits and also nectar of aloe species.  They also hawk insects in the air. They have a characteristic call song described as “cheriktiktik”as its name indicates, and can precisely imitate other birds’ calls.

  • Fairy Flycatcher (Feevlieëvanger) Stenostira scita

Image credit: Fairy Flycatcher by Alan Manson

The Fairy Flycatcher is a very small grey-and-black bird with a white wing bar and outer tail-feathers and a very distinctive pink central belly.  This pink wash on the belly can be seen during close-up examination during bird ringing. This is also one of our smallest passerine bird species, weighing a mere 4 – 6 grams.  The other one is the Cape Penduline-tit. Fairy Flycatchers are an altitudinal migrant species and although recorded in all months of the year in the Bloemfontein area, there is a marked increase in observations from autumn to winter, mainly of birds migrating from the Lesotho highlands and surrounding areas. This small bird with its “fairy” appearance has a very soft whistle call and can be seen foraging for small insects between the leaves and branches of trees. They also will flutter into the air to capture small airborne insects.

  • Malachite Sunbird (Jangroentjie) Nectarinia famosa

Image credit: Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia famosa, male Derek Keats

The Malachite Sunbird is one of our largest sunbird species with a long decurved bill. The males can be identified by their iridescent green plumage and long central tail feather.  Females are pale yellow with faint speckling and outer tail edged white. Males also undergo a moulting process to an eclipse plumage (non-breeding plumage) during the winter.  The iridescent plumage is then replaced by a yellowish plumage with blotches of green on body and shoulders, and sometimes the long tail feather is lost.  Sunbirds with this plumage can mostly be observed in the autumn and winter months in Bloemfontein. They forage mostly on the nectar of a wide range of food plants such as aloes, lion’s ear and other species which are an attraction for sunbirds.  They also will hawk small flying insects out of the air. During a bird ringing study during the 1990s on Malachite Sunbirds in the Bloemfontein area, including the Oliewenhuis gardens, it was found that these sunbirds were mainly observed during March – June.  It was also found that Malachite Sunbirds do return to localities where they have been previously ringed. One bird was recaptured several times, with the last recapture after 10 years.

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