8 February 2013

Zambia: Nation Tops in Bird Assemblage

ZAMBIA is a well known ornithological country boasting of more than 740 species of birds.

The country's avifauna is that of the Central African Plateau where the vegetation is principally miombo woodland, bisected by grassy dambos along drainage lines.

In some areas, the miombo woodland is replaced by other woodland types, dry forest, or thicket.

Zambia has low-lying valleys which include the Luangwa and Middle Zambezi Valleys and the country between Lakes Tanganyika and Mweru where a number of birds are found.

A very small part of Zambia has montane altitudes it is quite different from that of the rest of the country and includes several species with very limited ranges.

Of Zambia's woodland birds, a few are found in particular kinds of woodland - miombo or mopane, for example or in association with fig or palm trees.

Most, however, occur in a range of woodland types, and often also the edge of forest.

Many of the species of diurnal raptor of the family Accipitridae - the vultures, hawks, eagles thus the Bateleur, Shikra and Lizard Buzzard can be found almost anywhere.

Among the less common members of this family, are the African Cuckoo hawk, bat hawk, Western Banded snake Eagle, Ayres hawk eagle and crowned Eagle.

Some of the birds inhabiting woodlands are the doves, pigeons, parrots, cuckoos. owls, nightjars, kingfishers, hornbills and the Broad-billed Roller. Barbets, honey guides, woodpeckers, Swallows, the Fork-tailed Drongo and flycatchers.

Lying at the centre of the miombo zone of south-central Africa, Zambia has a greater variety of miombo birds than any of its neighbours.

Many of the birds of the miombo woodland join mixed-species bird parties.

A typical bird party may contain members of ten or twenty species, mainly of territorial insectivorous birds.

The party travels slowly through the woodland and membership changes as the route leaves and enters individual territories.

In addition to those birds found in any woodland type, mopane has several species that are largely or entirely confined to this habitat.

All are easily noticed because they are vocal, numerous and, or conspicuous, while in the case of the sparrow-weaver the nests cannot be missed.

The black-cheecked lovebird is of particular interest because it has a very small range and is considered endangered.

Others are the three-banded courser, red-billed hornbill, southern long-tailed starling, southern grey-headed sparrow and the white-browed sparrow-weaver in baobabs, there are red-billed buffalo weavers.

Several birds are associated with one or more species of palm thus the palm-nut vulture normally occurs in the vicinity of raphia or elaeis palms.

Several species which include laughing dove, red-faced mousebird, common bulbul, thrush nightingale, White-browed scrub robin, marsh Warbler, and common whitethroat, of this habitat are very common.

Typical birds such as the migrant african pitta and the resident white-throated nicator occur in extensive areas of deciduous thicket low-lying area between Lakes Mweru and Tanganyika.

The same species occur in similar habitats in the middle Zambezi and Luangwa Valleys, along the natal francolin, barred long-tailed cuckoo, sombre bulbul, eastern bearded scrub robin and Livingstone's flycatcher.

Forest habitats cover a small part of the surface of the country; however, they have a diverse avifauna that is largely different from that of the neighbouring woodlands.

Some birds occur regularly at forest edge or in such near forest habitats as dense woodland, well developed thickets or rich vegetation on termite mounds which include blue spotted wood dove schalow's turaco and lady ross's turaco.

Riverbanks often support a growth of riparian forest. Such as white-backed night heron, green-backed heron, hadeda, african black duck, African finfoot, pel's fishing owl, half-collared and giant kingfishers.

Mushitu birds that are relatively widespread in northern Zambia include woolly-necked stork, golden-rumped tinkerbird, Purple-throated cuckoo shrike, little and cabanis's greenbuls.

Dry evergreen in north-west supports many birds like the gorgeous bushshrike.

Despite the few montane forests in Zambia, a large number of montane forest birds such as red-breasted sparrowhawk, rameron pigeon are found here.

On the upper parts of the dambo, close to the woodland edge, scattered trees are occupied by the white-winged black tit.

The driest areas of sometimes extensive short grassland are inhabited by temminck's courser, red-capped lark and the dessert cisticola.

The intermediate levels in typical dambos are permanently spongy and have short grass.

This habitat is common enough in northern Zambia but does not occur in many other parts of Africa.

The centre of a dambo consists of a series of different wetland habitats which are reedbeds, red-chested flufftail, African water rail, little rush and lesser swamp warblers and chirping cisticola.

On the periphery of many of the wetlands are floodplains, which are occupied by Aabdim's and white, storks, montagu's harrier and secretary bird.

Shallowly inundated vegetation is usually rich in the number of birds and the variety of species, which include common squacco and rufous-bellied Herons, yellow-billed egret, saddle-billed stork, sacred and glossy Ibises, fulvous and white-faced whistling ducks, spur-winged goose, knob-billed and yellow-billed ducks.

Another important wetland habitat is bare or poorly vegetated mud, often at the water's edge.

This habitat is most extensive when water levels are falling towards the end of the dry season and among birds occurring here are little egret, grey heron, ringed, three-banded and blacksmith plovers, marsh, wood, and common sandpipers, greenshank and little stint.

Shallow open water is used by a number of larger waterbirds, including White-breasted and reed cormorants, white and pink-backed pelicans, goliath heron, yellow-billed and open-billed storks, african spoonbill, whiskered and white-winged black, terns and pied kingfisher.

Deep open water is usually lacking in birds, though on Lake Tanganyika the occasional group of lesser black-backed gulls can be seen.

A large number of waterbirds use tall swamp for breeding or roosting.

Other occupying this habitat more permanently include purple heron, shoebill, African marsh harrier, purple gallinule and common moorhen.

Large stands of papyrus swamp occur in northern Zambia and are the habitat of the greater swamp warbler, swamp flycatcher and papyrus yellow warbler.

Conservationists consider the last of these to be vulnerable.

Among the birds associated with sand bars are the Egyptian goose, water dikkop, white-crowned and white-fronted sand plovers and the african skimmer. Those making extensive use of sand cliffs for breeding include horus swift, white-fronted and southern carmine bee-eaters and the african sand

Their specialised avifauna includes the black stork, augur buzzard, black eagle, taita and peregrine falcons, mottled, african black and little swifts.

The yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpeckers are dependent on large game animals, where they occur, or, in western Zambia, on cattle and even donkeys.

Hooded, white-backed, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures feed at the carcasses of dead animals, including domestic cattle.

The european swift occurs only in the sky, often near rain.

The same is usually true of the house martin, though at times it perches on trees or wires.

Both species apparently sleep in flight.

The same is doubtless true of the alpine swift, a dry season visitor to the skies of eastern part of the country.

Many species of birds are attracted to bush fires by the fleeing or roasted insects and other animals. Almost always present are the fork-tailed drongos, often in large numbers.

The dusky lark is attracted to fiercely burning bush fires as It may begin singing before smouldering has stopped and it breeds in the ashes.

Likewise, the bronze-winged courser often appears shortly after the ground has been burnt.

A number of nocturnal birds perch on roads at night and may be killed by traffic include the Three-banded and bronze-winged coursers, spotted eagle owl and nightjars.

During the day doves, particularly the Cape Turtle dove, come to untarred roads to ingest grit. At times, European Swallows perch in flocks on tarred roads.

In some areas Pied Crows regularly nest in Pylons. Raptors that frequently perch on pylons include the Brown Snake Eagle and Dark Chanting Goshawk.

In eastern part of the country the African Pied Wagtail often occurs in villages.

Within its range, the red-billed firefinch may nest in thatched roofs.

Farm dams are common in commercial farming areas and usually attract many species of waterbird.

The standing dead trees in new dams may be used as nesting sites by the scarce White-breasted cormorant.

land cleared for more traditional agriculture is often used by such species as kurrichane buttonquail, Laughing and cape turtle doves, black-winged Red bishop, yellow bishop, white-winged and red-collared whydahs and common waxbill.

Copyright © 2013 The Times of Zambia. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.