A mate for the Boubou at last

2009-07-04 00:00

THE birds needed little skates on their feet this week — the poor darlings could not drink or bathe until the ice had melted in the birdbath. I guess with their skinny little feet and legs that have very few blood vessels, they don’t feel the cold as we do, and wearing a coat of feathers and down must help a lot in warding off the cold. I certainly need my eiderdown at night! Roll on summer.

Our Southern Boubou has at last found a mate and the two of them are hopefully going to set up home in our garden. I just love the tuneful duets that sparkle back and forth between them, and I am still trying to work out who is the boy and who is the girl. Someone ventured that they thought the whiter birds are the males and the ones with lovely deep apricot tummies are the females, but I am not yet convinced. Our pair are certainly easily told apart; the one so brightly coloured by comparison that it could almost be mistaken for that very rare yellow morph of the Crimson-Breas­ted Shrike so often illustrated in fieldguides. By the way, I pronounce boubou as “bo-bo” so as to avoid any confusion with the Brubru, which can arise if you say “boo-boo”. Names can be difficult can’t they; especially the scientific pronunciations as none of us really speak Latin. In my case anyway, it’s the first time you hear a name that you remember. Then someone comes along and pronounces it quite differently and you aren’t quite sure who is right — but I am still sticking to “bo-bo”.

A new and now regular visitor to my main birdbath is a female Golden-Tailed Woodpecker. It is great to be able to see at close quarters the red head with brown speckled forehead, the heavy streaks on the breast, and the strong feet with two toes facing forward and two backwards. (The GoldenTailed Woodpecker is the one with the single note call that sounds as if the bird has been poked with a sharp object!) Other birds (with the exception of the barbets) have three toes forward and one backwards. The fancy word for this sort of arrangement is zygodactylous, and it allows the birds to clamber up or down the trunk of a tree with equal ease. Woodpeckers have another adaptation for their habit of digging holes in tree trunks, either to search for food or to make nest holes: a very muscular tail that is pressed hard against the trunk to stop them falling over backwards. It is only woodpeckers and barbets that have the ability to carve out their own nest holes and, once they have finished using these nests, there are other hole-nesters just waiting to move in, those that cannot dig their own. Woodpeckers and barbets have specially reinforced skulls so that they do not develop violent headaches while hammering away at seemingly peck-resistant trees — and very tough beaks too.

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