Mocking Cliff Chat Territorial Behaviour

Francois Swart (VM78) – 29/04/2017

Every day in nature is special, at the same time a gift and an opportunity to broaden our horizons and increase our knowledge. Now, as I get older the retention of knowledge seems to be challenging, especially with the amounts of stuff that we try to remember. Luckily every now and again something happens that is so different and interesting, that it stays stuck in the head. Recently on a duty in Kgaswane we had such an observation.

HO’s on duty might have noticed the resident pair of Mocking Cliff Chats Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris at the Naga Camp in Kgaswane Mountain Reserve. These fairly large and distinctively coloured chats are found in rocky areas, cliffs and kloofs. True to their name they can be quite noisy with their high pitched calls. They do also get used to, and make use of, human dwellings and built structures and therefore the pair at Naga camp seems quite happy to stay in the actual hut structure. These loud but melodious birds will often mimic other birds and are usually found in breeding pairs or small  family groups. They survive mostly on insects, but also fruits and nectars from aloes.

When you stop at Naga it does not take long for the pair to announce their feelings about the arrival and they will be on the vehicle in a flash. I thought it might be to pick off little insects but I took some time and watched their behaviour. They specifically come and sit on the door by the window close to your side mirrors and vocalise loudly, picking at the windows and mirrors. It dawned on me that this must be some misguided territorial behaviour. Over a long time they have become aware of these intruding birds that they see in the reflection and because the hut is not always occupied they have not become habituated to these reflections. They also appear to understand that the arrival of a vehicle means the arrival of the intruding birds and their unhappiness is displayed clearly.

It put a smile on my face to watch their antics for about half an hour as they did their best to get rid of the brazen invaders, almost getting frustrated when they looked in the mirrors and windows again and saw that it was an impossible task. Back at the camp I mentioned this strange behaviour to my fellow HO on duty Francisco de Freitas, and we had a good laugh when he mentioned that he had enjoyed the exact same behaviour from them when he stopped over at Naga earlier that day.

 

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