The Burhinidae family of Thick-knees (also known as Stone-curlews or Dikkops) consists of 9 species in 2 genera, Burhinus and Esacus. They are cryptically plumaged birds whose camouflage helps them to blend in with their often arid environments.  In southern Africa, there are two species. The Water Thick-knee’s, Burhinus vermiculatus, preference for moist areas may contribute to the eroneous habit of considering them amongst the wading birds.

The Spotted Thick-knee, Burhinus capensisis, is found across much of Africa, favouring open country and is perfectly suited to the dry sandy ground of the cape region, where this individual would almost certainly have been overlooked were it not for its bright yellow legs, eyes and bill.

It was standing perfectly still beside the sandy track when I first saw it. As I watched, it slowly moved into a patch of dried vegetation and I noticed that it was settling over a single egg. Outside of the tropics, nesting would usually take place in the spring (in the southern hemisphere, spring and the height of the breeding season occurs before Christmas); these pictures were taken in March as the weather in Cape Town is beginning to cool.

A monogamous pair will select a nesting site together with the male getting the casting vote. The female prepares the site by scraping a clear spot on the ground. Two or three eggs may be laid and either bird may incubate. Sexes are alike, but I think (for no good reason), that this is the male.

During the day, thick-knees will often be seen standing singly or in pairs. They are most active at night and make eerie nocturnal calls which have cemented their place in many folklore tales from Africa to Australia.

If you liked this post, why not explore the gallery section at 10,000 Clicks? A multi-part trip report from Cape Town can be found at Redgannet, March 2011.

This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #134.  Go check it out!

Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.