Strange waterbirds
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African Jacana L: 30 cm (12") Somewhat resembling a long-legged moorhen (page 38), this is a chestnut, white and black waterbird, with a short, sky-blue bill and frontal shield, and very long legs . It trots on the surface of water lilies and other aquatic vegetation, with its ludicrously elongated toes preventing it from sinking . It flies weakly, low over the water, with legs and toes dangling behind awkwardly . The immature lacks the blue bill and shield of the adult, and is brown-headed . This is a common Kruger resident on dams, ponds and lakes where aquatic vegetation covers the water surface . It has a highly unusual mating system, with one dominant female maintaining a reverse harem of several males . After egg-laying the males each raise a brood alone . When there is danger, the chicks will run towards their father, who is able to tuck them under his wings and stand up and walk off with the whole brood protected . Strange waterbirds: 1 40 African Finfoot L: 66 cm (26") An elongated, dark, duck-like aquatic bird with a bright orange bill and legs, the finfoot cannot easily be confused with anything else. Its back is spotted white, and the underparts are variably spotted and barred. The throat is grey on the male and white on the female. It swims slow and low in the water, with its tail held flat on the surface. The short, thick neck and bright bill differentiate it from the bulkier African Darter and cormorants (pages 18–19). African Finfoot is a rare resident in Kruger with a population of about 50–100 individuals. This highly secretive bird prefers rivers that flow year-round, such as the Levuvu, lower Olifants, Letaba, and Sabie Rivers. Pairs patrol quiet, clear backwaters, foraging under overhanging cover for invertebrates, frogs and fishes. VU BIRDS OF RIVERS AND WETLANDS juvenile male female 41 WaterThick-knee L: 40 cm (16") Thick-knees are long-legged, plover-like birds, often resting inconspicuously by day . This species is similar to Spotted Thick-knee (page 69), but has greenish legs and a distinct black-edged grey panel across the wing – and, as its name suggests, favours more aquatic habitats . Up close it shows fine wavy streaks, rather than spots, on the back . The Water Thick-knee is common in Kruger, but never wanders far from permanent water, although it can occur in woodland adjacent to rivers, and even in camps . Although mostly nocturnal, it is also active at dawn and dusk, early evenings often being punctuated by its distinctive high-pitched, piping calls that speed up and then slow down again . It gives an open-winged threat display to startle predators, even sometimes successfully repelling monitor lizards . This thick-knee associates with Hippopotamuses and Nile Crocodiles, warning them of impending danger . In turn, the birds seem to benefit when crocodiles scare away monitors and other predators . Thick-knees are colloquially called ‘dikkops’, which in Afrikaans means ‘thick-heads’, a reference to their oversized domes . Strange waterbirds: 2 42 Greater Painted-Snipe L: 25 cm (10") A dumpy, colourful, snipe-like shorebird, with a slightly drooping bill, finely-barred brown back, white belly, and pale ‘braces’ extending over the shoulders . Unusually among birds, the female is more brightly coloured than the male, with a chestnut breast, nape and head, bolder head pattern, and pinkish bill . The male is more subdued, with olive-brown mottling, buffy-golden spectacles and eyestripe, horn-coloured bill and a sprinkling of golden spots over the wings . Painted-snipe are shy and inconspicuous birds that are scarce but regular along the muddy margins of wetlands and flooded grasslands throughout Kruger; numbers may increase in summer (December–March), and during wet years . The female’s mournful “wuuoo-uuuk” call is sometime the first indication of their presence . Like the jacanas (page 40), each female will breed with several males . NT BIRDS OF RIVERS AND WETLANDS male female 43 ...