Skip to Content

Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Identify and index birds in Southern Africa
User avatar
Johan van Rensburg
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Birder of the Year (2015)
Award: Birder of the Year (2014)
Posts: 2315
Joined: Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:33 pm
Location: Jam Street

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Sun Dec 06, 2009 12:12 pm

People like to think that animals help each other in nature, living in harmony and working for the common good. Scientists call this mutualism. Red-billed oxpeckers eat ticks from cattle and other large mammals, helping the animals while gaining a meal for themselves... or do they?

In truth this textbook example of mutualism (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours) may not exemplify such a happy partnership after all. After 2000 hours of observation Paul Weeks during graduate work for the University of Cambridge in England concluded that keeping the red-billed oxpeckers away from cattle didn't typically increase tick infestation. Paul Weeks also observed that excluding the oxpeckers speeded healing of skin wounds of various causes. (Red-billed oxpeckers: vampires or tickbirds? – Weeks 1999). His data suggests that the relationship between birds and their hosts is more complex than previously thought. Although the red-billed oxpeckers do not greatly harm their hosts, there is no evidence yet that they are actually helpful.

Weeks studied Bonsmara cattle in Zimbabwe that were either exposed to or isolated from red-billed oxpeckers. When Weeks counted the number of ticks on the cattle, both groups had the same amount – the oxpeckers were not helping to remove ticks at all.

So what were the birds up to? Weeks observed them picking at wounds so that they could feed on the cattle's blood. And, when the oxpeckers did eat ticks, they preferred ticks that had already engorged themselves – the damage to the livestock had already been done. The cattle were an oxpecker buffet, as the birds feasted on dead skin, mucus, saliva, sweat, tears, and earwax.

Image
Large view, RBO on Buffalo near Satara

Despite Paul Weeks's study, the long-standing “myth” that red-billed oxpeckers help their hosts by removing ticks prevails. Oxpeckers continue to be reintroduced into game reserves in South Africa coupled with advertising campaigns that continue to promote the “benefits” of red-billed oxpeckers for tick control. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Poison Working Group runs the translocation program “Operation Oxpecker”.

“Oxpeckers can be one of the farmer’s greatest natural allies on game and cattle farms. It is therefore very important to employ farming practices which offer the birds the best chance of survival by managing tick infestations with the correct products and management protocols”, they claim. Before the widespread use of toxic cattle dips, red-billed oxpeckers were found throughout the eastern part of the country as far south as Grahamstown. Now cattle farmers are encouraged to use bird-friendly dips so that these birds can return to their original range. Red-billed oxpeckers have been reintroduced successfully in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Kimberley area of the Northern Cape. Some farmers now have a healthy population on their property, which they believe keeps their livestock and game free of external parasites. This, in turn, anecdotal evidence suggests, stops the spread of tick-borne diseases.

According to Weeks, it may take a while for attitudes about oxpeckers to change. "The traditional view is still pretty solid."

One of the important limitations of Weeks’ studies is the fact that the cattle and oxpeckers did not coevolve and therefore the results may not be representative of the relationships between oxpeckers and their native African ungulate hosts in general. However, the oxpecker behaviour on cattle observed by Weeks was confirmed to extend to black rhinos in captivity by observations of captive oxpeckers and black rhinoceroses at Zurich Zoo, in Switzerland. (McElligott, Maggini, Hunziker and König – Interactions between red-billed oxpeckers and black rhinos in captivity 2004). This work demonstrated that the birds opened new wounds on their hosts. This was an unnatural situation, especially since the captive rhinos were tick-free, but it suggests that field studies of oxpeckers should focus on the frequency of feeding at wounds, and monitor the frequency with which new wounds are created on game animals.
Last edited by Johan van Rensburg on Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
677 Last 5 lifers: Caspian plover, Western marsh harrier, Rüppell's vulture, Spotted crake, Lesser jacana

User avatar
Johan van Rensburg
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Birder of the Year (2015)
Award: Birder of the Year (2014)
Posts: 2315
Joined: Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:33 pm
Location: Jam Street

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Sun Dec 06, 2009 12:46 pm

Image
Large view, RBO on buffalo near Satara

Did you know that the red-billed oxpecker is one of very few birds that can change the colour of its iris! It is not well-understood how this happens, but ornithologists think it is stress related. The iris is drained of vermillion, in extreme cases changes to pale yellow.

Although yellow irises were previously documented, ringers were the first to observe the colour change. However, I am not 100 percent convinced that this is the right explanation because I have infrequently seen yellow-eyed individuals in their natural environment (got no pix tho’). There must be a more plausible reason than just ascribing it to stress. To further substantiate my thoughts on this – the reverse happens in black-bellied starlings (their eyes are normally yellow, but changes to red – also a ringer’s observation).

I have shots of this phenomenon though. :lol: My red-eyed individual was in no way stressed that I could detect. The bird featured at my birdbath in St Lucia and remained there for an extended period… very relaxed… and red-eyed!

Image
Large view, yellow-eyed

Image
Large view, red-eyed
677 Last 5 lifers: Caspian plover, Western marsh harrier, Rüppell's vulture, Spotted crake, Lesser jacana

User avatar
Meandering Mouse
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Angel of the Year (2015)
Posts: 11872
Joined: Tue Jun 07, 2005 8:47 pm
Location: meandering between senility and menopause

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Meandering Mouse » Sun Dec 06, 2009 4:19 pm

Barcud, I need to prowl the bird threads more often. I think that this is the funniest posts that I have seen lately.

:funny:

Johan, Wolhuter speaks of the poisoning and disappearance of the Oxpecker in his book. I wonder what he would think now?

I will read this post again once the effects of peri peri prawns and Graca have disappeared :wink:
The bird doesn't sing because it has answers, it sings because it has a song.

User avatar
Johan van Rensburg
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Birder of the Year (2015)
Award: Birder of the Year (2014)
Posts: 2315
Joined: Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:33 pm
Location: Jam Street

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:10 am

Hi, Mouse!

Meandering a little easier this morning? Hope the Graca didn't leave you with a headache... :twisted:

Glad to have provided some entertainment... albeit Graca-assisted :wink: (@ Bracud... I kinda accept that you will allow part of the mouse's "funny" compliment to be valid for my two subsequent posts... Probably not funny-hahaha like yours... but rather intriguingly funny)

Wolhulter wouldn't change his account of the poisoning and subsequent disappearance of RBOs from SA... that is a historical fact. What may change is the rationale behind the call for the return of RBOs to their previous ranges... Protagonists for reintroduction should focus their motivation on the continued survival of the RBO as a specie... and maybe punt the positives for wildlife (which I believe MUST be present, albeit still undisclosed, it seems). The incentive of RBOs being the farmer's ally against ticks and tick-borne diseases no longer carries the same weight as it did before Weeks' observations that suggested the reintroducing RBOs on cattle farms comes with a cost to the fitness of the cattle. New and innovative farming practices is required of livestock farmers who are environmentally aware... It shouldn't be too difficult... Boer maak 'n plan (Farmer makes a plan)
677 Last 5 lifers: Caspian plover, Western marsh harrier, Rüppell's vulture, Spotted crake, Lesser jacana

User avatar
Meandering Mouse
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Angel of the Year (2015)
Posts: 11872
Joined: Tue Jun 07, 2005 8:47 pm
Location: meandering between senility and menopause

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Meandering Mouse » Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:20 am

Fortunately not too much Graca, Johan :wink:

I was reading, I cannot remember where, about the appaling fatality rate on some game farms, of animals lost due to ticks and parasite loads. I suppose, what would be essential in this case, is better grazing and parasite management, rather than introducing Ox Peckers.
The bird doesn't sing because it has answers, it sings because it has a song.

User avatar
Johan van Rensburg
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Legendary Virtual Ranger
Award: Birder of the Year (2015)
Award: Birder of the Year (2014)
Posts: 2315
Joined: Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:33 pm
Location: Jam Street

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:59 am

Meandering Mouse wrote:Fortunately not too much Graca, Johan :wink:

I was reading, I cannot remember where, about the appaling fatality rate on some game farms, of animals lost due to ticks and parasite loads. I suppose, what would be essential in this case, is better grazing and parasite management, rather than introducing Ox Peckers.


I guess wisdom extends to wine-drinking too...

Grazing and parasite management is not on the agenda of true nature reserves, MM. Parasites are part of the reserve's inhabitants and as such left to be sorted out by the toughest manager on the reserve - Mother Nature herself...

I support the reintroduction of RBOs to places where they disappeared from due to unsound dipping practices... Ms Nature knows what to do. It is the farmer next door who faces new challenges... If he is made aware of the challenge posed and kitted with the correct farming strategy/methods to benifit both his domisticated animals AND the RBOs, it becomes a win-win... not so?
677 Last 5 lifers: Caspian plover, Western marsh harrier, Rüppell's vulture, Spotted crake, Lesser jacana

User avatar
DinkyBird
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 42027
Joined: Thu Dec 30, 2004 5:54 pm
Location: The Beautiful Cape

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by DinkyBird » Wed Oct 20, 2010 8:01 pm

Pics taken in Letaba camp, Sept 2010:

Image

Image
Sawubona
Dalene

User avatar
Nico
Senior Virtual Ranger
Senior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 805
Joined: Tue May 31, 2005 11:48 pm
Location: between a lot of green in Holland

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Nico » Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:08 pm

I filmed a Red Billed Oxpecker hanging on the nose of an Impala. The Impala had a little wound above his nose and the Oxpecker was digging it out probably for blood. This can lead to a major infection and the death of the Impala. :?


User avatar
Leeukos
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 795
Joined: Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:07 am
Location: Under African Sky !!!

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Leeukos » Sat May 19, 2012 8:53 am

A Red-billed Oxpecker sitting on an Impala in the Kruger National Park.

Image
"A roaring lion kills no game."
"Until lions start writing down their own stories, the hunters will always be heroes."
"If you kill a tree, you are killing a bird."
“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”

User avatar
Leeukos
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 795
Joined: Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:07 am
Location: Under African Sky !!!

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Leeukos » Sat May 19, 2012 8:54 am

A Red-billed Oxpecker sitting on an Impala in the Kruger National Park.

Image
"A roaring lion kills no game."
"Until lions start writing down their own stories, the hunters will always be heroes."
"If you kill a tree, you are killing a bird."
“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”

Jan van Wyk
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Award: Sighting of the Year - Birds (2015)
Posts: 5231
Joined: Sun Dec 25, 2011 8:37 pm

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Jan van Wyk » Fri Jul 27, 2012 7:18 pm

Posing for the camera

Image

Image

Image

Jan van Wyk
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Award: Sighting of the Year - Birds (2015)
Posts: 5231
Joined: Sun Dec 25, 2011 8:37 pm

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Jan van Wyk » Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:07 pm

Busy cleaning

Image

User avatar
Ifubesi
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 93
Joined: Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:42 pm
Location: Body:Pretoria ; Soul:Kruger

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Ifubesi » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:10 am

I thought all you bird lovers would like to hear my good news. I saw a few Red-Billed Oxpeckers this weekend at Leeupoort Holiday Village between Bela-Bela and Thabazimbi at what seemed to be their nesting site in a dead tree! Looks like all the game farms springing up over the bushveld is really having a positive impact on birds such as these. A few decades ago this would have been a very rare sighting outside of Kruger.
On the down side I also saw some Indian Mynas there :( .
13 Dec 2012 Pretoriuskop
14-15 Dec 2012 Lower Sabie
16 Dec 2012 Tamboti
17-18 Dec 2012 Satara
19-22 Dec 2012 Shingwedzi
23 Dec 2012 Punda Maria

Jan van Wyk
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Distinguished Virtual Ranger
Award: Sighting of the Year - Birds (2015)
Posts: 5231
Joined: Sun Dec 25, 2011 8:37 pm

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Jan van Wyk » Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:44 pm

That is great news, they are doing such a great job controlling pest and hope the farmers will work together to ensure they are wide spread again.

Few close ups taken in KNP

Image

Image

User avatar
Leeukos
Junior Virtual Ranger
Junior Virtual Ranger
Posts: 795
Joined: Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:07 am
Location: Under African Sky !!!

Re: Oxpeckers, Red Billed

Unread post by Leeukos » Sun Nov 25, 2012 6:00 pm

Image
"A roaring lion kills no game."
"Until lions start writing down their own stories, the hunters will always be heroes."
"If you kill a tree, you are killing a bird."
“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”


Return to “Birding in Southern Africa”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


Webcam Highlights

Addo
Submitted by Ernest J at 15:52:18
orpen
Submitted by Mant at 11:32:49
satara
Submitted by Mischief at 02:02:03
nossob
Submitted by Aztech at 06:05:21