🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Farm Talk - Sunny, the Black Sunbird

Sunny, the Black Sunbird Female

I feel very sorry for Gary Craye of Hartebeespoort (his letter in “In Your Garden” June/July 2003 issue), as I have had a similar experience to M. Joubert of Sedgefield.

I had a resident pair of Black Sunbirds on our 8,5ha smallholding in Tarlton (district Krugersdorp), nesting in a (high!) Blue gum tree outside the Cottage kitchen. After a severe windstorm, I found two tiny chicks (identity unknown to me at that stage) on the lawn, one dying shortly after I had picked them up.

I scoured the trees for signs of any nests, only to notice one hanging from a branch by a couple of threads, much too high for me to reach or repair. After closer inspection, the obvious long beak was an indication that I had a little Sunbird on my hands. I have reared many little chicks, all seed, fruit or insect eaters, but have never dealt with a nectar feeder!

In a panic, I phoned our local (bird expert) veterinarian, who told me of a product (powder) which you mixed with water to feed nectar feeders. I rushed out, bought a supply of the nectar and shortly the little Sunbird was greedily feeding from the syringe. It was a little female (brown and stripy) and I have yet to come across a more loving and intelligent bird.

At night, she would sleep in her basket, surrounded by warm towels and during the day, she would perch either in her cage or on my shoulder, graduating to sleeping on top of the cage. During the day, she would flit around the house, following me from room to room. When hunger struck, she would perch on my shoulder, begging for food by pushing her beak into my ear, neck and anywhere else she saw fit! I had some Kniphophia (Red Hot Pokers) and various vines and flowering creepers in the garden – I would pick the flowers for her and she immediately would dip into them, sucking at the nectar, begging for more.


Then came the day of her first sojourn outside. I hoped and prayed that she would be safe, and as I walked outside with her perching on my shoulder, she surveyed her surrounds, cocking her little head from side to side. Then suddenly she took off, flitting around madly, tweeting in her excitement. I brushed aside a couple of tears, ready to say goodbye, but the next instant she was back on my shoulder, insisting on my cupped hand to nestle in (her favourite place whenever I would take an afternoon nap on the couch).

These outings continued for about two weeks until, as soon as she saw the open door, she would go out, staying out the whole day, only coming home at dusk, to contentedly sit on top of her cage, turning her head away and sneering at the Avian nectar being offered her – she’d had better than that!

I noticed that nectar was actually quite a small part of her diet, as she spent most of the day snatching insects off tree branches and leaves.

Then Sunny (as I called her) discovered a male and, of course, they lived happily ever after! I was very sad to say goodbye to such a WONDERFUL little creature, but at the same time, SO thankful to have been allowed to have a peek into the wonderful world of one of God’s greatest creations – birds.
Black Sunbird Male

Black Sunbird Nest

Sunbird facts
The family ranges in size from the 5-gram Black-Bellied Sunbird to the Spectacles Spiderhunter , at about 30 grams. Like the hummingbirds, sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in metallic colours. In addition to this the tails of many species are longer in the males, and overall the males are larger. Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding. The spiderhunters, of the genus Arachnothera, are distinct in appearance from the other members of the family. They are typically larger than the other sunbirds, with drab brown plumage and strong down-curved beaks.

Species of sunbirds that live in high altitudes will enter torpor while roosting at night, lowering their body temperature and entering a state of low activity and responsiveness.

Distribution and habitat
Sunbirds are tropical species, with representatives from Africa to Australasia; the greatest variety of species is in Africa, where the group probably arose. Most species are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants. The sunbirds occur over the entirely of the family's range, whereas the spiderhunters are restricted to Asia.

The sunbirds and spiderhunters occupy a wide range of habitats, with a majority of species being found in primary rain forest, but other habitats used by the family including disturbed secondary forest, open woodland, open scrub and Savannah, coastal scrub and alpine forest. Some species have readily adapted to human modified landscapes such as plantations, gardens and agricultural land. Many species are able to occupy a wide range of habitats from sea level to 4900m.
Sunbirds are active diurnal birds that generally occur in pairs or occasionally in small family groups. A few species occasionally gather in larger groups, and Sunbird will join with other birds to mob potential predators, although sunbirds will also aggressively target other species, even if they are not predators, when defending their territories.

They are generally monogamous and often territorial, although a few species of sunbirds have lekking behaviour. Up to three eggs are laid in a purse-shaped suspended nest. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs alone, although the male assists in rearing the young after hatching.

Relationship with humans
Overall the family has fared better than many others, with only seven species considered to be threatened with extinction. Most species are fairly resistant to changes in habitat, and while attractive the family is not sought after by the cage bird trade, as they have what is considered an unpleasant song and are tricky to keep alive. Sunbirds are considered attractive birds and readily enter gardens where flowering plants are planted to attract them. There are a few negative interactions, for example the Scarlet-Chested Sunbird is considered a pest in cocoa plantations as it spreads parasitic mistletoes.

Orange breasted Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

Nectarinia_regia Sunbird

Plain-throated Sunbird

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Red-chested Sunbird

Crimson Sunbird - Male above and Female below

Pics from Wikipedia


FARM TALK - The World of Jacko

Hi! I am Jacko, a Foxie/Jack Russell cross, living at Ga-Sethlong, a beautiful home on a small-holding on the edge of the Cradle of Human Kind in Gauteng, South Africa. I was born on the 1st September 2005, to a healthy litter of 7, with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. This is my story.

When I was about 4 weeks old, I remember catching a glimpse of the world for the first time - a confusing array of brothers and sisters and blankets (up until then, it was my Mother’s smell that guided me to her warmth and that wonderful, warm and satisfying taste of milk). There were strange goings-on, with faces popping in and plenty of oohing and aahing. For a couple of days this carried on, but this was home and was comforting in a strange way.

Then, when I was 5 weeks old, in the dark of one night, a hand grabbed me from my Mother’s side, whipped me into a bag and swiftly I was spirited off to a strange and unknown world. I was beside myself! Where was everybody? Where was my Mother?! I cried all night long, getting a couple of smacks in the process, to my utter horror.

I spent an utterly miserable night, shivering in the strange bag, rough and cold on my skin. I slept fitfully, waking often and calling for my Mother, but to no avail.

The next morning I was unceremoniously hauled out of the bag and carried by the scruff of my neck (I struggled profusely, but just got a smack for my efforts from this unkind stranger) to the street corner, where the stranger was offering me for sale to all the passers-by.
The streets were bustling with activity and strange smells and noises and several people stopped and petted me. Someone prodded me with a sharp object and pulled my ears, to see “if he would make a good watch dog”. They laughed scornfully when I yelped and struggled to free myself from the grip on my neck.

We spent most of the morning standing there and I endured a couple of hours of being passed from one person to another, hoping for a kind hand or word, but was just handed back roughly to my tormentor.

I was starving and a cold wind was howling around the buildings. I tried to snuggle closer to the stranger but was roughly tucked under his arm while he lit a cigarette.

By this time, the stranger was desperate to get rid of me and when a man stopped and enquired if he could hold me, the stranger impatiently handed me over. The man fondled my ears and stroked my back with his warm hands. My heart leapt at this act of kindness and I licked his fingers, eliciting a smile from him. The man haggled with the stranger for a while and they obviously settled upon a price, because the next minute he wrapped me in his coat and carried me to his car.

When we got to the man’s car, he took off his jacket, wrapped me in it so that only my head stuck out (it was SO warm!) and we drove off. We drove for quite a while but even though I was starving, I felt warm and somehow at ease.

When arrived at our destination, the man lifted me out and carried me into his house. There we were met by his wife and he told her about the unkind stranger and how miserable I had looked when he saw me. She cradled me in her arms and immediately gave me some warm milk to drink. I lapped it up! It wasn’t like my Mother’s milk, but I decided it would do for now. The man’s wife (I discovered her name was Maree), made a warm bed of blankets for me on the couch and I immediately fell asleep with Maree sitting next to me - warm and content, but dreaming of my Mother and making soft little yelps in my sleep. I hadn’t slept since the previous night I had spent in the bag, cold and unhappy.

When I awoke, a new life started for me. I received unconditional love from Maree and Dave and soon the memories of my Mother started to fade. I have a special blanket of my own, which is soft and furry like my mom and sometimes when I’m curled up in it, I still have visions of my mom and get the urge to suck and paw the blanket.

I was also introduced to Maree and Dave’s other dog, Tyson, a HUGE Rottweiller, and at first I was very cautious. But Tyson soon made it clear that he was quite happy to see me and we now have a wonderful time in the garden playing tag or just being silly. I think he was a bit lonely before I came along.

Now I spend my days in the lovely garden, revelling in playing games with Maree, who buys me lots of toys, my favorite being my red ball.

I also make sure that the Ducks and Geese and Pheasants don’t stray too far away - there are some very unkind people out there! And I’ve discovered that I’m an EXCELLENT watch-dog! I hear every strange sound and warn Maree & Dave immediately of any impending danger.
As I said, there are some real nasties out there!

My favorite is when we all go out together. Maree lets me fetch my harness and leash, which she then puts on me, and we’re ready to go. I normally look out of the window and love the strange smells wafting past - I then also growl at any suspicious looking characters that look like they’re getting a bit too close for comfort. At our destination, I’m then allowed to explore every nook and cranny (still on my leash - Maree is very fussy that I might get lost or something). After some of these outings I’m really exhausted and then have a good sleep.

At night, after supper, we all watch TV with intervals of short games, naps and snacks. When it’s bed-time, Maree fetches my blanket, which goes on top of their bed in between the two of them and we settle in for the night, me with an ever-vigilant ear. Maree says I still have dreams about my Mother because I sometimes cry in my sleep, but I can’t remember anymore - just a faint glimmer of a childhood that was rudely cut short. But Maree says just as well the horrible stranger stole me, otherwise we wouldn’t be together today ...


Farm Talk - Robin vs Wagtail

WELCOME to my Nature Blog! Here I will share my life on my little piece of African soil, an 8,5ha smallholding situated in Tarlton (Gauteng,South Africa). Join me in celebrating all Mother Nature has to offer. I believe every creature, large or small, every plant, rock, mountain, river, or sea that has come into being has the right to exist in its place, to be respected and to fulfil its role within the community of life. I respect Mother Earth in all her many forms and pledge to harm no thing and no one and to safeguard the fertility of the soils, the purity of water and air, and the health of natural communities inhabiting this planet.

Camera: Fuji FinePix 2800ZOOM

Up until the end of April 2003, we had lived on our smallholding (8,5ha) in Tarlton since 1975. Over the years, I had established a lush garden with numerous indigenous trees and various types of ivies, one of which covered the kitchen wall on the South side of the house and in which the Wagtails made their home. I also had a resident pair of Cape Robins, nesting in the ivy creeping up a dead tree trunk opposite the Wagtails. I dearly loved my Cape Robins, who would take mince out of my hands at the kitchen window, but I must inform you that they are utter terrorists as far as the Wagtails are concerned!

Over a period of 2 weeks, I watched in fascination as both the Robin and Wagtail parents fed their chicks. (After a long, careful search I located the Wagtail nest in the ivy on the kitchen wall – the Robins’ nest was much lower opposite them and more obvious). Both sets of parents scurried hurriedly for the available cache of insects and worms, with one hitch - the Robins would dive-bomb and chase the Wagtails at every opportunity – making it very difficult for the Wagtails to feed their chicks in peace.

Then, one morning, I heard the Wagtails’ panicky cries and to my utter horror, found the Robin plucking the Wagtail chicks from their nest, dropping them, bleeding and fatally injured. The gentler Wagtails could do nothing but scurry helplessly about. I tried to rescue the unfortunate Wagtail chicks, but to no avail – they were already dying.

The only conclusion I could come to was that the Robins regarded the kitchen window and my mince meals as their domain and begrudged the Wagtails being anywhere in the vicinity!



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