V is for Flying


Common Ostrich

Common Ostrich – Struthio camelus 

With a surname like Strauss (Ostrich in German), this is probably the first bird that I knew by name. I grew up with all sorts of nicknames related to Strauss (strysie, Straussie) and thus, began to dislike the fact that my surname actually has meaning and of course, it has to be one of the most precarious birds as well! Ostriches are not my favorite birds.

To many people, ostriches at one time or another, meant gold. In Oudtshoorn, South Africa, there were two ostrich booms as the fashion in Europe at the time (1875 – 1880 & 1903 – 1913) required ostrich feathers – especially for hats. In Namibia, ostriches farming also boomed at Mariental which has a very similar landscape to Oudtshoorn. To me, ostriches has always been a symbol of dust and desert. These birds, it seems to me, can live where no other creature can live.

Not very surprisingly, ostriches are the largest and heaviest birds alive. (They weigh up to 70 kg and can be up to 2m tall).  The males are slightly more attractive in their black and white feathers than their grey female counterparts. With this drab arrangement of colours, they blend in pretty well with their chosen habitats of open arid savanna woodland, shrublands and desert plains.

And I think the main reason why they can survive in dire situations, are their choice of food. Ostriches will eat just about any plant material available.

Ostriches are (suprise, surprise!) polygamous. The nest (or what they call a nest) is built by the female. The males incubate the nest at night, while the females make turns during the day.



And now that you have studied this photo – some people make a sport out of riding these birds…. Yup….



How does one sit on them? I’d be way too scared of those legs….. A 70kg bird must be able to pack in quite a punch!

And here is what the hats used to look like… would you wear one?

download (1)



And today they are used for:

images (1) ostrich_feather_dusters

Yup, dusters…. dusters and decor…

Right, there is your lesson in ostrich feathers!

African Penguin

African Penguin – Spheniscus demersus

I have always found penguins adorable. Long before the likes of Surf’s Up and Marching Penguins, I thought penguins are just it. They may not be able to fly, but they are super cool. I never knew that they rock up every now and then in Swakopmund or even better, can be found close to Luderitz. Every time there was an oil spill in the Cape Town area and they asked for volunteers to go and help wash and clean these little ones, I wanted to go… But of course, I never had the opportunity.

The first time I laid eyes on them was at the Two Oceans aquarium in Cape Town and later at the Hout Bay Bird Sanctuary. It was only years later, on a field trip to Luderitz that I had the privilege of seeing them in their natural environment on Halifax Island and swimming around the boat. Here they are protected and nobody is allowed to come close to the island – not even to dive. Which I think is great.

Although Namibia does not have the wonderfully weird Puffins or the attitude rich Rockhopper Penguins, we have the African Penguins, and that is perfectly fine with me.

Like so many of the other penguins, African Penguins are listed as Vulnerable due to the decrease in food availability. They are further reduced by Great White Sharks (which I don’t think really plays a huge role here) and Cape Fur Seals (of which we have way too many!).

African Penguins are monogamous and breed in colonies on islands and isolated mainland locations.

They mostly eat fish like anchovies and pelagic Goby, but will also eat squid and octopus.

They make a donkey-like braying sound and this then accounts for the popular name of Jackass Penguins.

No matter what they are called, I love them!

African Penguin African Penguin_1


As always, thanks to my Robert’s Bird Guide, 2007.

Photo: copyright emdt.photography


Lilac-breasted Roller

Lilac-breasted Roller – Coracias caudatus

The most colorful bird in Namibia? Until recently, they were mostly seen on telephone poles on the look out for bugs to scoop, but since the demise of telephone poles, they are less common. (Technology does have its disadvantages!)

My Robert’s Bird Guide, 2007, list them as fairly common and sedentary. Like the Kori Bustard, local movement has been recorded though. They are most abundant in the far north of Namibia in the Kavango region, but like mentioned above, they can be found all over Namibia away from water.

These little birds (108 grams) are opportunistic hunters! They are insectivorous, but will also tackle small snakes, frogs, birds and other rodents… gosh!

Lilac-breasted Rollers are not very vocal but can be heard in flight during their breeding season. The males seem to know what is good for them and are monogamous and extremely territorial. They breed in tree cavities and will also breed in nest boxes.

Lilac Breasted Roller Lilac-breasted Roller

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard – Ardeotis kori

I might be horribly wrong, but I think this is the one bird that has increased in the Etosha National Park. I remember as a child that it was quite something to spot one of these. My father always pointed them out to us. As an adult, we seem to see them every time we are in Etosha. I have seen them next to our national roads as well. So fairly common as far range goes. Not so common when it comes to their courting rituals!

The Kori Bustard is the largest of the bustard family and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. Weighing in at 12.4kg (male) it is not difficult to understand. (What is heavier?).  The male and female are similar in looks although the male is quite a bit bigger than the female.

The Kori Bustard are listed as Vulnerable, but this must be everywhere except in the Etosha National Park. They are mostly sedentary with some local movement. (Those in Etosha must then prefer to stay in Etosha and thus increasing in numbers – good for them!) In their non-breeding season they are found singly or in small groups.

 The Kori Bustard enjoys dry open savanna (like that in Etosha and else where in Namibia), woodland and dwarf shrub lands. Their food ranges from dung beetles, lizards, chameleons (no!), snakes (yes!) and carrion. But some of them are also vegetarians enjoying seeds, berries, wild melons and Acacia gum.

They have a very loud booming call. And best of all, they are polygamous. (I thought the bigger birds would all be clever and stay with one female?)  And the poor female… legs are laid on the ground in a shallow scrape, and the incubation and caring of the young is taken care of by the female only! (The male probably gallivants while she kids-sit!)

Kori Bustard_1 Kori Bustard


Source: As always, my Robert’s Bird Guide, 2007

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