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Pamuzinda’s Freshwater Birds: Green-Backed Heron & Water Dikkop

Green Backed Heron

First of Pamuzinda’s freshwater birds is the unobtrusive, but very vocal, Green Backed (sometimes called Striated) Heron – Butorides striata. Its body colours are very neutral blends of grey giving it the ability to merge into almost any background.

The dead giveaway to its presence is its raucous screech which sounds like it has come from a far larger bird. Despite its name, I must confess, I have never seen one with a greenback. Rather the base body colour, including the back, is grey. It is supposedly closely related to the Lava Heron from the Galapagos and, by some, considered con-specific. The Galapagos version has now, however, been granted its own name. I have attached an old Galapagos Heron image I took some years ago, for comparison purposes.

The galapagos lava heron is not one opf Pamuzinda's freshwater birds
Galapagos Lava Heron

Traits that make the heron one of Pamuzinda’s most fascinating freshwater birds

One of the herons and several related species’ unusual traits is their ability to fish using bait. Bait for birds living in wild habitats is limited to feathers, leaves or insects. The bait is carefully placed on the water surface within the beak’s reach. The bird then waits for inquisitive fish to come and investigate. However, in some public parks and open spaces in various countries, they have learned to “nick” bits of bread and sandwiches from picnickers. They then use that as bait far more effectively.

If you Google or YouTube “Heron catching fish with bait” you will be amazed at some of the video clips you are presented with. Anyone wishing to delve deeper can Google “The Wilson Bulletin” 106/1994  pp567/569 where you will find an excellent article dealing with this very subject.

Water Dikkop

The second species of Pamuzinda’s freshwater birds being dealt with here is the Water Dikkop or Thick Knee – Burhinus vermiculatus. The Water Dikkop comes under the heading of Waders.

The bird enjoys a wide but patchy distribution in the Southern two-thirds of Africa. Water dikkops can be found in singles, pairs or small groups. It is officially listed as of “Least concern”. However, in keeping with many of its compatriots, habitat loss is one of the factors leading to a general decline.

The Water Dikkop is very vocal in flight with a memorable piercing call. It is crepuscular (dawn and dusk) in habit and even nocturnal in some places. We often see them sitting in the middle of the tracks when on a night drive in the Park.

The Water dikkop is a very common freshwater bird found even outside Pamuzinda
Water Dikkop by the water at Pamuzinda

Characteristics of the Water Dikkop

The Water Dikkop’s diet tends to be broadly based rather than specific, in keeping with many other wader species. This is a distinct advantage in the event of a shortage of one or more of its chosen prey species. Insects, crustaceans, amphibians, molluscs and fish are all taken.

Water Dikkops tend to breed just before the rains. Their nests are a simple scrape in the sand and pebbles where it lays up to 3 eggs. If it guesses wrongly, and the rains come early, there is often a danger of the nest being swamped. Another of its survival strategies, in certain areas, is to breed close to nesting crocodiles. This way it gets free protection from monitors and the like that would relish nothing more than Dikkop eggs for breakfast.

The two shown in the accompanying image, who are trying their best to look like Tyrannosaurus rex, didn’t have the benefit of that kind of protection. Hence they are having to fight their own battles (if you look carefully you will see the Nile Monitor blending into the grass in the foreground).

Two Water dikkops stand wings spread in defense of their eggs against a nile monitor
Two Water Dikkops standing in defence of the eggs against a Nile Monitor

Both the above species are regularly seen on our Insect Photography Walks along the riverside.

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Pamuzinda’s Freshwater Birds: Green-Backed Heron & Water Dikkop

Pamuzinda’s Freshwater Birds: Green-Backed Heron & Water Dikkop
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