Fiscal Shrike

Common Fiscal

The Common Fiscal, or Fiscal Shrike, is boldly marked with pitch black above and crisp white below.  The white bar in the wings extends all the way up to the “shoulder” and, when perched, forms a distinct “V” pattern on the back.  The robust bill is tipped with a hook and discloses its predatory habits.

The Fiscal makes itself conspicuous by perching on an exposed branch or fence post from where it drops down onto its prey.  Its diet consists of large insects, lizards and the fledglings of other species.  It often impales its prey on a thorn or spike, giving it the nickname of Butcher Bird (Afrikaans: Laksman).

Although the Common Fiscal prefers wide open habitats, many have adapted to suburban gardens.  They are fiercely territorial and scare away any other birds that venture into their space.  This habit makes them unpopular with people that go to extensive efforts to create a bird-friendly garden with feeders and birdbaths.

The Common Fiscal makes itself very conspicuous by calling frequently from its exposed perch.  The call is a mixture of sweet and harsh notes.  However, it is a mimic and regularly confuses the observer with passages that contain snippets of mimicking of local birds.

The Fiscal builds a dumpy cup-shaped nest in a dense bush or tree.  The female can be distinguished from the male by bold russet markings on her flanks.  Usually three cream-coloured eggs are laid and are incubated for 16 days.  Thereafter the fledgling period is about 19 days, by which time there are very few insects left in their territory.

The Common Fiscal can be distinguished from the similar looking Fiscal Flycatcher that has a thinner bill, shorter tail, and the white markings on the folded wings are restricted to the lower half.  The next time you are outside, take a moment to establish whether the black & white bird in your area is the Common Fiscal or the daintier Fiscal Flycatcher.

Common Fiscal female

Continue Reading

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Birdlife South Africa has elected the Barn Swallow as the “bird of the year” to create awareness about migratory birds in general, wetland conservation and global climate change.

Barn Swallows (Europese Swaeltjies) are one of the most widespread swallow species in the world. Millions of these swallows migrate between Europe/Asia and Africa each year which means covering a distance of about 10,000 kilometers between their breeding and non-breeding grounds.

These swallows start arriving in October and can be seen in all habitats, but especially at a large roosting site that is located on a private game reserve adjacent to Durbanville. At dusk thousands of Barn Swallows create a spectacle as they mill around above the phragmites reedbed. Suddenly, within a period of ten minutes they all drop into the reeds and the sky is empty.

The Tygerberg Bird Club has ringed over 3,000 Barn Swallows over the past three summers and caught 7 individuals that have been ringed in the United Kingdom and one in Spain.

The swallows moult before leaving South Africa in April and the males look magnificent in their metallic blue plumage which sports a pale belly, a deep red face, and long tail steamers.

Next time you see a Barn Swallow, think about how many kilometres it might have clocked in two, three or four years.

Continue Reading