Researcher Sinvula Michael Lukubwe is excited: Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, usually very shy birds, have chosen a hollow wooden pole in the fencing around the boma of Chobe River Camp as their nesting site. It is the first time that Lukubwe, a lecturer at the University of Namibia (UNAM), is able to observe the birds feeding their young. Oxpeckers are highly specialized when it comes to food. Initially the breeding birds went unnoticed and the two chicks were already about two weeks old when they were discovered. Lukubwe immediately set up a camera trap to record how many birds feed the young how often, and whether some of them spend the night with the chicks. With Yellow-billed Oxpeckers it seems that the whole family group participates in raising chicks.

The researcher, who has been studying Yellow-billed Oxpeckers since the beginning of this year, was amazed to spot two ringed Yellow-billed Oxpeckers with blue plastic rings at the boma on the very first day. At a settlement some 15 kilometres away a total of 27 Red-billed and 10 Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were ringed in May this year and had plastic rings of different colours fitted to them. Three Yellow-billed Oxpeckers got a blue plastic ring together with the metal ring bearing a number. So far very little is known about the breeding behaviour of these birds which feed mainly on ticks.

Chobe Oxpecker
Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on one of the wooden poles close to the nest. The whole family group of these birds feeds the young.

Michael Lukubwe is a lecturer for Wildlife Management and Ecotourism at UNAM’s Katima Mulilo campus.  During the past few weeks he collected ticks from cattle near settlements to find out more about the number of parasites per bovine and to also identify the various species and their respective growth stage. A professional hunter operating in the vicinity was asked to collect ticks from bagged game animals so that the researcher was able to compare the ticks found on cattle with those on wildlife. Oxpeckers pick ticks from cattle and various game species.

Less than 15 kilometres from Chobe River Camp there is another flat spot on the Namibian side of the river where Carmine Bee-eaters breed. The first of these colourful birds have arrived there and are exploring the terrain. The Carmines are sitting on the ground and on elephant dung. Elephant tracks and dung just a few metres away from the colony are proof that pachyderms frequent this spot on the river on a regular basis to quench their thirst and take a bath. Since there is not much water left in the Chobe, not only elephants are constantly crossing over from Botswana to Namibia and back, but also zebras, buffaloes and antelopes. Visitors are taken on game drives to see the birds and mammals.

Chobe Oxpecker
This Carmine Bee-eater takes a break on elephant dung while the other birds explore the nesting opportunities. None of the Carmines has as yet started to dig a nesting tunnel. More birds arrive every day.

Barely a hundred metres from the entrance to Chobe River Camp a pair of Gabar Goshawks is busy building a nest. The female is melanistic, i.e. black, whereas the male’s colouration is normal. For bird lovers in particular, this breeding pair is a very special sight because the plumage of only between 7 and 25 percent of Gabar Goshawks is black.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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