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The Natal spurfowl

7 December 2015

 

www.leopard.tvThe harsh call of the Natal spurfowl Pternistis natalensis, formerly known as the Natal francolin, is characteristic of the bushveld at dusk and dawn. The name Pternistis was created by Wagler for gamebirds of medium size with black, red, or orange legs and streaked or mottled backs. The name was derived from the Greek word for one who trips with the heel and refers to the double spurs of the males. The name natalensis refers to the former name Port Natal of Durban, near where the first specimen was collected. The original scientific name Francolinus natalensis was given to this bird in 1834 by A Smith.

Adult Natal spurfowls are 30 to 38 cm tall, the males have a mean weight of 500 g and the females one of 390 g. The sexes are alike and the Natal spurfowl lacks the bare skin on the face or throat that is characteristic of the red-necked spurfowl Pternistis afer and Swainson’s spurfowl Pternistis swainsonii. The general back plumage is earthly brown with off-white flecks. The underparts are white with black speckles and transverse bars. The eyes are dark brown, the legs and feet are bright orange, particularly when breeding; the adult male has bright, orange, leg spurs that are up to 20 mm long and the bill is orange-red with a dull yellowish base.

www.leopard.tvThe Natal spurfowl is nearly endemic to southern Africa and occurs widely in the KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North-West and Free State provinces. It is sedentary and no seasonal movements are known. The habitat varies from savannas to woodlands with a scrub understorey, thickets and coastal forests but it is most common in the Lowveld and dry, eastern woodlands. Its natural range has expanded along watercourses that have been invaded by the exotic black wattle Acacia mearnsii. It regularly occurs along the edges of cultivated fields and on firebreaks with good adjacent cover. It can form coveys of up to ten birds but usually occurs alone because it is a shy bird that quickly runs into cover when it has been disturbed. When it is flushed, it only flies a short distance before dropping back into cover, often landing on a concealed perch where it remains motionless.

Foraging under vegetation by scratching for food in the leaf litter and loose soil is mainly done early in the morning or late in the afternoon. In winter the diet largely consists of small bulbs, roots, seeds, fruits and fallen grain but in summer this diet is supplemented with beetles, termites, grasshoppers and caterpillars. The Natal spurfowl also commonly scratches through the dung of large herbivores in search of seeds that have not been digested.

The Natal spurfowl is a monogamous breeder and a solitary nester. The nest is made beneath dense scrub tangles and consists of a shallow scrape in the ground that is thinly lined with grass stems and sometimes feathers. Laying eggs may occur all year, particular in Zimbabwe, but peaks from December to May in South Africa. Two to seven, and sometimes ten, cream or buff-coloured eggs are laid and incubation starts after completion of the clutch. Larger clutches are laid by two females and incubation for 20 to 25 days is only done by the female. The hatchling chicks are reddish-brown above, with a crown that is fringed in black, and they have a yellowish-brown bill and yellow legs and feet. The chicks can fly flutteringly from a age of ten to 14 days.

 

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, p 81.

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

 

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