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Summer Visitors- migratory birds to South Africa

Published 29 September 2010 under Travelogue • Comments: 26
Summer Visitors- migratory birds to South Africa

Summer visitors

This is that time of the year when we are often thrilled by our first sighting of a returning migratory bird species. Already the Wahlberg Eagles are back in early August. As an Intra African migrant they don’t have to travel far and are not away for long.

But many species are not so fortunate and undertake epic journeys across the world every year. What strong urge can provoke such an undertaking? Mostly, it is not one factor alone but a combination of a few.  Migration is the seasonal movement from a breeding area to a non breeding area.

Migration is a survival strategy not only for the individual but also for the species.



The angle of the suns ray, extreme weather conditions, day- length, seasonal shortages of specific resources and of course competition will all stimulate the instinct to move. However, most birds, especially those that attempt non-stop or very long flights, have to build up fat reserves before hand. These fat deposits are a response to hormonal changes that it turn, are a response to environmental changes. Some birds may even double their body weight such is the demand of this hazardous journey.   Journeys of 10 000km are not unusual while the longest round trip is undertaken every year when the Arctic Tern  flies a staggering 50 000 km. The larger birds like raptors and storks migrate short distances between stop off points and do not need to fatten up before leaving. The Steppe Eagles that come all the way from the Russian Steppes ( Palaeartic-African Migrants) arrive here in November/December. These birds tend to fly over land; they need the warm air of the thermals to fuel their flight as well as the food available only from land. Many of these birds including the Lesser Spotted Eagles, Booted eagles, Storks and Pelicans fly in huge concentrations over Israel and Gibraltar between their nesting grounds in Eurasia and their non breeding sites in Africa twice a year.  Their flight plan is longer than a sea route and man- made factors add extra risk.



While most birds fly at altitudes less than 3000 feet, pilots have reported bird sightings as high as 26000 feet.

As we move into the summer months more and more species will arrive here to take advantage of the prolific food supply. Whether a bird migrates or not, depends largely on what it eats. Migration is common in insect- eating birds with  the most common ones being the aerial feeders- the swifts, swallows, bee eaters and nightjars that feed in the open skies. Our fish-eating Malachite Kingfisher is resident while the similar Pygmy Kingfisher is an insect eating migrant. The Woodland Kingfishers come from and are a conspicuous insect -eating visitor. The Carmine Bee-eater that arrives in Dec and leaves in January is another Intra African migrant. Our Lilac Breasted Roller is a resident insect eater while the heavier European Roller will spend from early December until March in our part of the world.

Another migrating species are many of the cuckoos. The “Piet my Vrou”, Diederik, Klaas’s, African, Jacobin and many more all come here to breed. This presents the intriguing concept that migration behaviour is inherited rather than learned when the cuckoo young are all raised by parents of different species.

Whatever their reasons, their route and their potential gain, over 130 bird species in Southern Africa are migrants. The wonders of their skills of navigation and orientation is another story still but simply having them show up on our door step is a privilege and a delight to behold.
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Sun, 15 May 2011 07:33:21 +0200
Hey Judy

I just love reading your articles, easy reading and full of great information.

Keep up the good work


Wed, 27 Jul 2011 08:47:36 +0200
thanks for the interesting information
Reinette van Niekerk
Mon, 05 Mar 2012 19:35:31 +0200
Very helpfull info

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