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Robin-Chat, Cape

Identify and index birds in Southern Africa

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Johan van Rensburg
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby Johan van Rensburg » Mon Jan 25, 2010 8:29 pm

This bird is the best-loved garden bird in South Africa... and this is all there is to read/see about it! :shock:

That has to be corrected... watch this space :wink:
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby JenB » Mon Jan 25, 2010 8:33 pm

Watching this space......... :whistle:
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby Johan van Rensburg » Mon Jan 25, 2010 10:02 pm

Although the Cape robin-chat is not the only specie that uses a poo management system to safeguard their nests against predators, this was the first opportunity I had to record this strategy at its origin and most critical location… in the nest! This also serves to keep the nest dry and clean and reduces exposure to pathogens and parasites.

In essence the Cape robin-chat chicks put their poop in a strong mucus membrane that can be carried away by the parents without puncturing the bundle. Fecal sacs are just like disposable diapers for birds! :wink: The parent encourages the chick to deliver its parcel directly after having fed the chick. The process is very quick… faster than you can say: "Kuhwrrrrap!" …the parent is gone… poo parcel and all!

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For the first couple of days after hatching, parent may actually eat many of the chicks' fecal sacs. Initially the chicks' intestines don't have much bacteria to help them digest their food. Before the bacteria kick in, the droppings are full of partially-digested food items so that the parents can take advantage of the food still in the droppings. Eating the poo parcels permits the parents to give more of the prey they find to their babies rather than eating this food themselves.

Making fecal sacs takes protein. But it's worth the cost when nest sanitation is at risk, but as soon as the chicks leave the nest, they stop producing fecal sacs and make a poop just like an adult bird… one that splats instead of bouncing.

I knew something was taking place when I noticed the robin-chats busily fluttering about in the same corner of the garden. For years I have been trying to locate their nest. This time, determined to succeed, I sat down in a comfortable chair close by to watch them go about their business. It still took three hours to discover the location of the nest.

She is raising two chicks in a cup-shaped nest that she and her partner for life built together in the embrace of a creeper that covers a gazebo in our garden. She did most of the construction work, building with course plant material and thickly lining the nest with soft materials like animal hair, lichen and fine rootlets. It is cleverly camouflaged in the complex joint of a climber that covers the gazebo, about 1.3m off the ground. The female performed all the incubation and brooding duties. The male's participation in caring for the young is limited to feeding, initially he provides very little of the food, but this contribution is said to steadily increase as the demand from the chicks grows. So far I have not seen that happen, though. Zorro (so named by a friend and the name stuck :lol: ) hangs about on guard duty, continuously supporting the female bird with soft, guttural three and four syllable “all-is-clear, go-go-my dear” encouragements.

And what a hunter she is! There in the nest she is every 20 minutes or so with a load of food. And the variety is stunning. She forages for food on the ground, whisking leaves and litter, on lawns and in trees, sometimes hawking prey aerially. Cossypha caffra mainly eats insects, but sometimes ripe fruit is used. Its prey includes ants, butterflies, bees, beetles, caterpillars, millipedes, termites, spiders, crickets, mantids, moths, wasps, locusts, grasshoppers, katydids and a variety of flies.
Some samples of her catches are reflected below.

Worms
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Milipede and caterpillar
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Mixed grill Katydid, moth
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Hover fly (a harmless bee mimic)
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As I collected photographs of this female, I was able to decipher the number on her ring. It turns out to be CV43517, a ring put on her by my ringer friend Colin Williams in October last year. Zorro also wears a ring, but we have not been able to read the number yet.

The Cape Robin-chat, is probably South Africa’s best known and best loved garden bird. They lay 2 to 4 eggs. The robin-chat is the favourite breeding host of the Red-chested cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou). The Piet-my-vrou does not remove the robin eggs, but cuckoos hatch about 3 or 4 days sooner than their hosts. Then the young cuckoo chick, specially equipped for the job, tip the robin chicks out when they hatch. This often happens while the female robin is busy brooding. They say that the baby robin is pushed out on the hollow back of the young cuckoo, over the side. In spite of the female robin being present, she seems to take no notice of the whole procedure.

The cuckoo chick, once it is alone in the nest with no competition for food, grows very fast. At 10 days it is often about twice the size of the adult robin. When the robin comes to feed the chick, it seems as if the youngster grabs the food, robin and all, it’s gape is so big. At this stage the robin often sits on the back of the imposter chick while feeding it!

C. caffra breeds for most of the year, but summer is the peak breeding season. Now is the best time to try and find that breeding pair’s nest. Approximately 1/8 of Zorro’s chicks can turn out to be a Piet-my-vrou step child. To find something like that in a robin-chat nest is a Jackpot happening. I have high hopes of finding this phenomenon some day.
Cape robin-chats feature in virually every garden in our big cities! It is the first bird to start singing in the morning! They are skulkers, though... spending much time in thickets. If you have a bird bath, that is where you will see them quite easily as they love to take a dip!
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby JenB » Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:47 am

Very interesting and lovely pics!
Thanx Johan! :clap:
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby bishop3006 » Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:34 am

The ones we have in the garden are quite tame actually and we constantly see them around. Early December last year Junior called me to show me a nest - Cape Robin-chat! But not hidden away actually. Not even a meter off the gorund, actually in the ferns, or rather on top of them, underneath some overhanging bougainvillea and jasmine branches/creepers. I am not sure what happened, whether they hatched or anything, as when we got back and I looked again just after New Year the nest was empty. But they're still all around there - just can't say that I've see a youngster, but I didn't really look. Sorta forgot... :tongue: On Sunday saw a bulbul, couldn't see which one, displaying! Not sure whether it was a mating display (at this time of year?) or whether it was a teenager begging for food.

Will see if I have any worthwhile photos of the nest. Not nearly as good as the normal ones posted here - I'm just a poser with a (small) camera... :tongue:
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Re: Robin-Chat, Cape

Unread postby gecko_drea » Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:02 pm

Hi all
Brand new to this site/forum - very chuffed to have found it!
I recently had a Robin Chat arrive in my garden in West Beach, Cape Town (actually there's 2 and one being a bit smaller than the other I am presuming one's the female?) and was curious what actually attracted them. I have been putting out seed and a bit of fruit for all the birds for quite some time and when I read up about the Robin Chat (after id'ing him :)) If I remember correctly I 1st saw them after I had put out cut up grapes. I had been putting out orange which the Cape White Eyes absolutely love but had some grapes and added that.
I do see the Robin Chats on the seed feeder often but assume they collecting the ants off there?
I think they are so cute and at least they don't seem to let themselves be bullied too much by the Pin-Tailed Whydah that has been terrorising all the other birds LOL, so much so that I stopped putting feed out as he was the only bird appearing in my garden at one stage.
But I digress... the stories about all the different birds I have attracted needs to go under "... attracting birds to your garden"

Thanks for all the awesome info on the Robin Chat!!!
Andrea

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Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby arks » Tue Jun 29, 2010 7:01 pm

This one is, I think, a juvenile Cape robin? Seen at Cape Point in March 2010.

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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby arks » Wed Jun 30, 2010 1:51 am

Batmad wrote:Your first bird is a Pink Billed Lark :D :D

And the second one .... :?
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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby DotDan » Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:41 am

Hi Arks, just quickly logging in, but from what I can see, it looks like a very wet familiar chat

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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby Batmad » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:51 pm

Agree with DD :D Familiar Chat :D :D
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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby arks » Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:47 pm

Thanks DD and Batmad, but ... it has a spotty/stripey/mottled breast ... that's why I thought Cape robin juvenile. And it wasn't raining. :) I've cropped the photo a bit more ... does that help at all?

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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby Batmad » Wed Jun 30, 2010 7:50 pm

Arks,

Sorry i thought it was raining and along with that red rump it was indicative of Familiar chat, but having a look in my bird guide now, i see that your bird is indeed a Juv. Cape Robin Chat :wink:

My apologies,
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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby arks » Wed Jun 30, 2010 10:58 pm

Thanks, Batmad, and NO need to apologise. It very well could have been a very wet familiar chat :wink: The wealth of possibilities is what makes IDing these birds so challenging — and such fun!
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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby Batmad » Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:16 pm

Indeed arks :wink:
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Re: Identification Help - General Birds

Unread postby DotDan » Thu Jul 01, 2010 7:03 am

Very well spotted Arks 8)


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