Wondering how to impress your neighbours with your knowledge of birds when you are really just a novice? Get to know the birds which are most frequently sighted first. Here in the first selection, the TOP 15 BIRDS of this region.
Here follows a list with photophraphs. The information is from the Southern Africa Bird Atlas and is for the quadrant 2550-2755. The photographs are provided by Gavin Orbel, his own photographs and those of Eric Stockenstroom.
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
The colors in the feathers of a bird are formed in two different ways, from either pigments or from light refraction caused by the structure of the feather. In some cases feather colors are the result of a combination of pigment and structural colors.
Pigments are colored substances that can be found in both plants and animals. Pigment colorization in birds comes from three different groups: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines. This is where the grass comes in... Carotenoids are found in low quantities in grass seeds, which many granivorous birds eat.
In South Africa it is the genus Euplectes, the bishops and widowbirds, that are the main users of these pigments. The beneficial effects of high levels of carotenoids are well documented by scientists: as antioxidants they are thought to improve bird’s health, and the resulting bright feathers signal to female birds that males are healthy, have less parasites and a good diet.
What? Grass makes birds sexy? Yup! Several good local studies have showed that there are two sexual selection systems in the Euplectes: long tails are important, and bright colors are important.
Color is important too, but operates differently in different species. In red bishops, brighter (plumage not IQ) males attract more females to their harem and have higher reproductive success.
Color signals in birds are so called "honest signals". Producing the bright colors is costly, only those males in good condition with access to good food resources can collect enough carotenoids and put enough energy into plumage development to produce the brightest signals.
So in essence, male and female Euplects birds can easily assess the quality of other males and females very effectively - there is no cheating involved.
So next time you see a tired looking brightly colored male red bishop at your feeder or in the grassland, give him some respect - it's hard work looking so good!