Namaqua Sandgrouse

Photo by Albert Froneman

The Namaqua Sandgrouse (Kelkiewyn) Pterocles namaqua is is the only sandgrouse in the region with a long, wedge shaped tail, with diagnostic central rectrices pointed. The head, mantle and breast of the adult male yellowish olive, yellower on throat and forehead. Sports a double breast band of white and deep maroon, belly dark brown, wing coverts spotted pearly grey on olive. The head and upper breast of the female is vertically streaked dark brown and buff, throat plain yellowish, lower breast and belly transversely barred brown and buff. In both sexes the iris is dark brown, eye ring yellow, bill greyish horn, legs and feet pinkish grey. Juvenile similar to adult female, but more finely barred and mottled.

Distributed in the dry western parts of southern Africa from south western Cape and Karoo to south western Angola. Near endemic, common resident, somewhat nomadic. Prefer sparse grassland with low shrubs and grass tufts, usually in stony regions, semi-desert and open desert. Less common in Kalahari sandveld and arid savanna. Avoids mountainess and wet regions. Southern populations are partially migratory, especially in Karoo, but movements unmapped. Populations in Namaqualand and Karoo are larger in summer, disappearing during winter, when populations in southern Kalahari increases.

Namaqua Sandgrouse is extremely gregarious or merely in pairs. Flocks number 5 to 10 birds and up to several hundred. They fly up to 60 km or more to water in these flocks, usually flies 1 to 3 hours after sunrise. Individuals may drink only every 3 to 5 days. When approaching water, flocks land several metres away from water, then run down to drink. Immediately after drinking takes off rapidly, flies fast and straight at 60 – 70 Km per hour, calling intermittently.

Their call is a nasal three note call ” ki-ki-veen ” ( kel-kie-wyn ), repeated at short intervals in flight, accented and higher-pitched on last syllable.

This sandgrouse spends most of the day on the ground, in pairs or small flocks. Feeds most intensively in early morning and late afternoon on protein-rich legume seeds, seeds from grasses is rarely eaten. Grit and small pebbles are eaten intentionally to assist in grinding up of seeds in the gizzard. Drinks from exposed water holes with little surrounding vegetation. Does not perch, with the result that they cannot drink from troughs or reservoirs.

They tend to lie up in any shade during midday heat. Flocks congregate in large communal roosts on raised, rocky ground. At these roost sites, each bird makes a shallow roosting scrape in which it spends the night. Roosting birds huddle tightly together in cold weather, with adjacent birds facing alternate directions. Dust bathes frequently, but never bathes in water.

They breed all months of the year, dependent on rainfall, mainly from April to September. They are monogamous. Their nest is a mere shallow scrape on the ground, usually near a scrub or grass tuft, sometimes exposed among stones or on gravel. The scrape is sparsely lined with small stones, bits of earth or dry plant fragments. They are solitary nesters but not territorial.

The clutch is usually 2 or 3, pale greenish grey pinkish stone coloured eggs, blotched, spotted and smeared with red-brown and pale grey. Incubation is 22 days by the female during the day and the male at night. Fledging 28 days, young attended by both parent birds, chicks self-feed within 24 hours, eating seeds only. Male carries water in soaked belly plumage, from which chicks drink. Chicks capable to fly at 42 days. Dependant on parents for at least three weeks after flying age.

Telephone lines, particularly near water holes, kills substantial numbers when birds fly into them at high speed, also fall prey to Peregrine Falcon.

Daleen van Manen

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