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Namaqua Sandgrouse




In spite of its name, the Namaqua sandgrouse is not restricted to the Namaqualand area in South Africa, but can be found all over the western half of southern Africa and particularly in arid areas with short grass. They are mostly seen at a waterhole in the Kalahari or Namib Desert where it announces its presence with the characteristic, melancholy kelkiewyn call.

The male has a rusty brown breast with a breast bar, while the female has a yellowish throat and v-markings on her chest. Sandgrouse are generally sturdy birds with short necks, small heads and pointed wings.

Of the 12 species of sandgrouse found in South Africa, the Namaqua sandgrouse is the only one with a long, pointed tail. The birds are sandy brown and about 28 cm.

These dove-like birds feed on small dry seeds on the ground. Being a seed specialist, each bird will consume a large quantity of seeds a day, depending on the size of the seeds. It therefore spends most of the day on its feet, searching out the tiny hard seeds of the ephemeral plants in this habitat.

The Sandgrouse, like the Ostrich, needs a certain quantity of pebbles and grit in its diet to assist with digestion of these hard-coated seeds in its muscular stomach.

Sandgrouse live on the ground just like European grouse do, but they are not related to grouse, in spite of their appearance. They live in small flocks of around 20 and gather at waterholes in huge flocks in the morning and evening.

Colonies nest in open country in near desert conditions, but always near water. During the winter nesting period, the Namaqua sandgrouse lays two to three eggs in a nest that is a mere scrape in the ground between the tuffs of grass. The male and female take turns to sit at the nest.

The male performs his fatherly duties at night, while the female remains on the nest throughout the hot day. If she left her post the embryos would quickly be killed by the searing heat - surface temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. She resists the heat by puffing up her feathers to create extra insulation between her body and the air outside.

Meanwhile, the male is free to join his fellows in a highly organised quest for water and food. This may take them on a round trip of more than 80 kilometres. Starting after sunrise, small flocks of Namaqua sandgrouse fly to a favoured waterhole where they rendezvous with flocks from other areas. Two hours after sunrise there may be a gathering of hundreds or even thousands.

When her chicks have hatched, the female rejoins the morning flight to water. The chicks need water too, and now it is the male who comes into his own. Every morning at the waterhole he dips his belly feathers under the surface and allows them to absorb water like a sponge: each gram of feather can absorb up to eight grams of water. With his cargo complete, he flies back to the chicks, and they drink the water directly from his breast feathers.

The Karoo has unusually large and diverse populations of predators such as snakes, mongooses and other larger mammals for such a seemingly barren landscape. Many of these predators are a serious threat to parent birds and their eggs and immobile chicks in nests. The Namaqua Sandgrouse loses over 90% of its nests to predators through its somewhat ineffective strategy of sitting tight on the nest in the hope of avoiding detection. Predators probably scent the tight-sitting bird, or bump it off its nest accidentally when moving past too closely, thereby easily finding the eggs.

The Namaqua sandgrouse is unique in many ways, but none so noteworthy as the way in which they have adapted themselves to the harsh habitats in which they are found.


The Namaqua sandgrouse is unique in many ways, but none so noteworthy as the way in which they have adapted themselves to the harsh habitats in which they are found. Yes it really is a nice article but can anybody help me with adaptability to the harsh environments?

Posted by: Scharleen

This was a very educative article about the Namaqua sandgrouse. I like it.

Posted by: potuu




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