Wildlife: The seldom seen Piet-my-vrou makes its presence heard

2008-11-18 00:00

In Prestbury the hiss of rain during Monday night was accompanied by the constant calling of the Piet-my-vrou. The bird, officially called in English the red-chested cuckoo, arrived in early October, but only with the recent rains has it made its presence known.

It is a bird that is definitely heard rather than seen. Even keen bird photographer Mark Wing was apologetic about the photograph that accompanies this article. “Bit of a blow-up, but the best I have,” he said. “Had to take it from a distance.”

It is the male red-chested cuckoo that gives the distinctive call, rendered by one bird book as “weet-weet-weeoo”, which has been interpreted as saying, in Afrikaans, “Piet-my-vrou” (Pete my wife). A strange snatch of dialogue, yet the phrase perfectly fits the three notes of the bird’s signature tune.

Uphezukomkhono, the bird’s call in Zulu and its Zulu name, connects the bird to the season of its appearance. According to my colleague, Dumisani Zondi, the call is a harbinger of the spring sowing season. “It means you must go and hoe the land.” The literal translation from Zulu means “on top of the arm” and Adrian Koopman, in his book Zulu Names, confirms Zondi’s interpretation.

“The call of this bird in spring marks the beginning of the ploughing season,” says Koopman, “when it is time for the field workers to put hoes on top of their arms [shoulder?] and go to the fields.”

The Piet-my-vrou is a summer migrant and a parasitic breeder that lays a single egg in the nests of other birds. Preferred hosts include robin-chats, chats, thrushes and flycatchers. The egg incubates quicker than those of the host and consequently hatches earlier so the hatchling is able to kick the other eggs out of the nest and become the sole occupant.

“Having the undivided attention of its foster parents [it] grows rapidly and soon dwarfs them,” according to the late ornithologist, Kenneth Newman.

We are now in the middle of the Piet-my-vrou’s breeding season so we will be hearing its voice for a while longer and, whereas other birds mostly sing at dawn or dusk, the Piet-my-vrou can strike up at any hour of the day or night. Early in the new year it will change its tune, the notes becoming drawn out, less distinctive, like a clockwork music box winding down. By the end of February the bird will have returned to central Africa.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.