Unique Names of the Kruger Birds: Part One

Birds have been on Ranger Andrew Nicholson's brain lately, which has led him to take a closer look at some of the Kruger's more interesting residents in the first of this two-part post...

Chinspot Batis

In spending more and more time in the African bush, my mind is never satisfied with the huge amount of unanswered questions that flirt with my curiosity on a daily basis. With a particular interest in birds I have become more and more intrigued at the very descriptive names for many birds in the Afrikaans language. Some of my personal favorites I have touched on below.Some names are just very onomatopoeic in the sense that the name given to the bird sounds exactly the same as the call of that particular bird. For example, “KWEvoël” is the Afrikaans name for the Grey Go-away-bird. It acquired its name from the sound of its characteristic alarm call, “quaaaay.” It is for the same reason that the bird is called the Grey “Go-away” bird in English. The Rattling Cisticola has the awesome descriptive name, Bosveldtinktinkie. Directly translated would be “Bushveld tinktinkie,” cleverly named after the sound of the bird’s call. These examples are only quite comical if you have actually heard these birds call before. The Grey-headed Bushshrike is given the name “Spookvoël” which means ghost bird. The reason for this is because of its eerie call that cannot be mistaken with any other bird.The Red-chested Cuckoo is called “Piet my vrou” in Afrikaans. This mirrors the sound the bird makes over and over again while it calls. It sounds as though the bird is singing Piet my vrou, Piet my vrou, Piet my vrou (Piet my wife). The same goes for the Klass’s Cuckoo which sings Maatjie, maatjie, maatjie (small friend).The Shrike family has been given the name “Laksman”, which means executioner/hangman. This comes from the distinctive habit within the species to hang insects onto sharp objects, such as the thorns of an Acacia tree, in times when insects are most abundant in summer. This cleverly allows the bird to have enough food during periods of drier months in winter. The Common Fiscal, formerly known as the Fiscal Shrike, is well known for displaying this particular behaviour.

Arrow-marked Babbler

The Babbler family, Katlagter (Cat laughter) is another interesting name given to a particularly vocal group of birds. I can’t say I have ever heard a cat laugh, but these gregarious birds certainly make a lot of noise when foraging together in the undergrowth.The Chat family was given the name “Spekvreters”, which means bacon/fat eaters. They were so named because of their habit of eating the lard (pig fat) that the Voortrekkers used to grease the axils of their wagons. This behavior was most associated with the Familiar Chat.Ranger Andrew Nicholson is far from done with the many birds whose names and behaviors fascinate him. He’ll be back next week to share more about the unique birds of the Kruger, including the famed Lilac-breasted Roller and African Harrier Hawk.

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