Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ha-ha, hadeda!

It’s breeding season in hadeda-land which, if it’s in my garden (and it is), is a pretty fraught time.

‘My’ hadeda family – which started about six years ago with a mom and a dad, and has grown every year since - lives in a huge pepper tree quite near the house. They share space with about a gazillion weaver birds and, occasionally, a maurauding gymnogene, which hangs spectacularly upside down and digs its double-jointed limbs into the nests for those delicious little babies. (Ag shame.)

Anyone with a hadeda family in their garden will know them by their screeching calls – a protracted and ear-splitting haa-haa-daa that is bad enough during the day, but at night causes you to wake up with the hairs on the back of your neck bristling. Who knows why these birds are sometimes moved to shriek in the middle of the night – my best bet is that they’re woken by a terrible nightmare because they sound like a tortured soul being dragged down into the pits of hell.

Hadedas are ibises and go under the wonderfully chewy scientific name of Bostrychia hagedash. They’ve only relatively recently – since the late 1960s – colonised the western Cape, and by the 1990s had become breeding residents in these parts. They use their long, curved beaks to probe the ground for earthworms, grubs, insects and even small snakes, so their range expansion probably has something to do with the increase of irrigated areas (making for softish soil), including suburban gardens and agricultural land.

They’re sociable birds, and out of breeding season can gather in quite big flocks (up to about 100). In breeding season – which is usually after the winter rains, from about July – they get together in pairs. They tend to use the same nesting site year after year. For such big birds, they build very flimsy nests, and eggs and chicks often fall out of them.

Both parents incubate the eggs (the female may lay up to six), and they hatch after about a month. Then there’s another couple of months of frantic feeding – again, by both parents – before the babies are ready to fly the nest.

And that, in our garden, is where the fun begins.

Out of breeding season, Mr and Mrs Hadeda and their offspring from previous years tease my dogs unmercifully. They hang out casually in the garden, making a big show of not noticing the dogs stalking them, and then fly off with their shrieking calls at the very last second. It drives the dogs completely dilly – in all the time they’ve been ‘hunting’ them, they haven’t come even close to catching one. (Thankfully.)

But things change when it’s time for the new babies to test their wings. A baby hadeda on the ground has zero chance of survival – they have no way of getting back into the nest, and if the dogs or cats don’t get them, some other predator will. So it’s an incredibly stressful time for Mr and Mrs H – and, in our case, the two babies they spent about four days teaching to fly.

It’s all done with a great deal of wing-flapping (not surprisingly) and even more noise, with the result that everyone in hearing distance is alerted to the goings-on and in a constant state of tension. The dogs are on watchful standby in case of a happy (for them) accident.

This year, it was mission accomplished for our hadedas, and Mr and Mrs H successfully launched two babies. Here’s the one (if you look closely, you can see it’s still got some baby feathers on its chest and head), proudly atop the garden shed, a short but successful flight from its nest.

So next year we can look forward to an even more expanded hadeda family, and even more noise.




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4 comments:

Claudine said...

HATE THEM! We have a few adults that keep our grass free of goggas and at 5am when the sun starts peeping out behind the horizon it ain't fun anymore!

Johann said...

Ha-ha! So you don't really have Hadedas in your garden, babes!
You say the call "haa-haa-daa"?
They must be the lesser spotted imposter, called Hahadas. :-)

Elna said...

Do you know when hadida baby's can fend for themselves?

There are 2 babies. We first noticed them beginning Nov. They are now old enough to flap their wings. One baby, I assume fell out. He's able to fly but not able to get back into the nest.
The parents have been teaching him to look for worms but he hasn't caught on. So he's been sleeping in bushes/low trees and they feed him.

Yesterday something frightened him, he flew over the wall onto a busy Street. We can't find him. The parents are walking around the garden screaming. It's heartbreaking. The baby is not able call yet. Will he be able to feed himself at this age?

Tracey said...

Hi Elna

Unless he's very close to fledging (flying on his own), his chances of survival are slim, I'm afraid. It's very upsetting to know that the baby is struggling on its own and the parents are freaking out. I watched exactly the same thing happen this season to one of two wagtails that the parents hatched out on an exterior bedroom windowsill - it's horrible not being able to help. Nature can be horrifying :(

Regards
Tracey