Bird O'clock

Unlocking the Secrets of the Elusive Double-banded Courser: Identification Behavior and Survival

The Double-banded Courser, or Smutsornis africanus, is a small, ground-dwelling bird species found in parts of eastern and southern Africa. This elusive species is not commonly seen by birdwatchers and can be challenging to identify in the field.

In this article, we will explore the field identification, plumages, and molts of the Double-banded Courser.

Identification

The Double-banded Courser is a small bird, measuring only 22-24 cm in length and weighing between 62-98 grams. It has a distinctive white throat and breast, with a brownish-black head, back, and wings.

The bird also has a double band on its neck, which is chestnut-brown in color. The eye of the bird is large and yellow, and its bill is short and bluish-grey in color.

Field

Identification

One of the difficulties in identifying the Double-banded Courser in the field is the bird’s tendency to blend in with its surroundings. The bird’s brownish-black coloration provides excellent camouflage in its native habitat.

However, the bird’s distinctive white throat and breast, as well as the double band on its neck, can help birdwatchers differentiate it from other species.

Similar Species

One species that the Double-banded Courser is often confused with is the Burchell’s Courser, which has a similar size and shape. However, the Burchell’s Courser lacks the double band on the neck, and its throat and breast are rufous instead of white.

Another similar species is the Temminck’s Courser, which has a similar coloration and double band on its neck. However, the Temminck’s Courser has an unmarked throat and breast and a different bill shape than the Double-banded Courser.

Plumages

The Double-banded Courser has a relatively simple plumage. The bird has brownish-black feathers on the back, wings, and tail.

The bird’s underparts are white, and it has a double band on its neck that is chestnut-brown in color. Unlike some species, the bird does not have a noticeable sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females look similar.

Molts

The Double-banded Courser undergoes a complete body molt, replacing all of its feathers once a year. The timing of the molt varies by location, with birds in some regions molting in the winter and others in the summer.

During the molt, the bird’s feathers become worn and damaged, and the bird replaces them to maintain its flight and insulating abilities. In conclusion, the Double-banded Courser is a unique and elusive bird species found in parts of eastern and southern Africa.

While challenging to identify in the field, its distinctive white throat and breast, as well as the double band on its neck, set it apart from other species. With a simple plumage and complete body molt, this species is an excellent example of how birds adapt to their environment to survive.

Systematics History

The Double-banded Courser, also known as Smutsornis africanus, is part of the Glareolidae family. The taxonomy of the family has undergone several changes over the years, with different researchers proposing different arrangements.

In the early 20th century, the family was divided into four subfamilies, with Courserinae being one of them. The Courserinae subfamily grouped together the three species of coursers, including the Double-banded Courser.

Later, molecular evidence showed that the coursers were more closely related to the pratincoles, leading to a reclassification of the family into two subfamilies, Glareolinae and Glareolidae. The Double-banded Courser is part of the Glareolinae subfamily.

Geographic Variation

The Double-banded Courser has a wide range, covering much of eastern and southern Africa. The bird is distributed in arid and semi-arid regions, where it is often found in open grasslands, savannas, and semi-deserts.

The birds range includes parts of Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Subspecies

There are two recognized subspecies of the Double-banded Courser:

1. Smutsornis africanus falkensteini, commonly known as Falkenstein’s Courser, is found in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

2. Smutsornis africanus africanus, referred to as the nominate subspecies, occurs in the rest of the bird’s range.

While the two subspecies have not been studied extensively, there are some morphological differences between them. Falkenstein’s Courser has a more extensive chestnut collar than the nominate subspecies.

Related Species

The courser family includes three species – the Double-banded Courser, the Burchell’s Courser, and the Temminck’s Courser. The Temminck’s Courser has a similar appearance to the Double-banded Courser, with a double band on its neck.

However, the neck band on the Temminck’s Courser is grey instead of chestnut-brown, and the bird lacks the white throat and breast of the Double-banded Courser. The Burchell’s Courser has a similar size and shape to the Double-banded Courser but lacks the double neck band and has a rufous throat and breast.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Double-banded Courser occurs in arid and semi-arid regions, where it is often found in open grasslands, savannas, and semi-deserts. Despite having a relatively stable range, the bird has experienced some changes in distribution over time.

The species has been impacted by human activities, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation. In some areas, the bird’s range has expanded due to changes in habitat.

For example, in northern Tanzania, the bird has been observed in areas that were previously forested. The opening of the landscape due to agricultural activities and deforestation has created suitable habitat for the bird.

On the other hand, in some areas, the bird’s range has contracted due to habitat destruction. In Ethiopia, the bird’s range has declined due to habitat loss caused by agriculture, overgrazing, and human settlement.

Similarly, in South Africa, the species has declined due to urbanization, agriculture, and mining activities. Climate change is another factor that may impact the bird’s range in the future.

The species is adapted to arid and semi-arid environments, and any changes in temperature and rainfall patterns may affect its distribution. As a result, the Double-banded Courser could potentially move to new areas or become locally extinct in some regions.

In conclusion, the Double-banded Courser is a unique and fascinating bird species that has undergone several changes in the way it is classified taxonomically. The bird has a wide range in eastern and southern Africa, with two recognized subspecies.

While the bird’s range has been relatively stable, it has experienced some changes over time due to human activities and climate change. As conservation efforts continue, it is crucial to monitor the bird’s range and population trends to ensure its survival for future generations.

Habitat

The Double-banded Courser is a ground-dwelling bird species that is mostly found in arid and semi-arid regions. It is typically seen in open grasslands, savannas, and semi-deserts.

The bird is also found in other dry habitats such as rocky hills, riverine forests, and Kalahari thornveld. The species prefers areas with low, sparse vegetation that provides good visibility of predators and prey while enabling foraging.

Several specific habitat features of the Double-banded Courser’s environment make it a suitable nesting and breeding site. The bird chooses open, sparsely vegetated areas to nest in, where its nest is a simple scrape in the ground, sometimes hidden by a clump of grass or a small bush.

The bird frequently deposits their eggs during the rainy season, taking advantage of the temporary grass growth. The bird will also use specific rocks and bushes to shade their eggs during the day and to blend in with the surroundings.

Although the bird prefers to live in areas with low vegetation, it needs some cover to hide from predators. The bird especially requires cover for nesting.

The bird uses cover provided by short grasses, forbs and shrubs, and in dense grassy areas, it uses cracks and cavities in rocky outcrops and tree trunks as cover to conceal nests and roost sites.

Movements and Migration

The Double-banded Courser is generally sedentary and does not undertake long-distance migrations. However, the bird may move to nearby or distant areas during the non-breeding season and may disperse within breeding areas.

During the non-breeding season, Double-banded Coursers are known to congregate in grasslands and savannas in groups of 10 to 20 individuals, sometimes in larger flocks. These groups are often made up of related individuals, such as pairs and offspring from the breeding season.

The Double-banded Courser is not well adapted to long-distance migration, as much of the species’ habitat is scarce and spread out, making it difficult for the bird to refuel en route. The bird’s non-migratory behavior is related to the distribution and quality of its food sources, as well as the presence of stable water sources.

The level of movement of the Double-banded Courser is determined by a range of factors and varies from between different populations or locations. It is known that the populations Swaziland are consistently more mobile than those to the west in South Africa.

These population differences indicate that the bird will adapt its movement patterns to the individual’s local conditions.

The Double-banded Courser is also known for its quiescent behavior, where it remains motionless in the hot daytime temperatures, and appears active mainly at night.

Even when disturbed, the bird will remain still or only move short distances to avoid notice.

In conclusion, the Double-banded Courser is a ground-dwelling bird species found in arid and semi-arid habitats.

The birds habitat preference relies on a combination of low sparse vegetation with concealment opportunities to deter predators. Although mainly sedentary, During the non-breeding season, Double-banded Coursers will move to nearby or distant areas; however, the species does not undertake long-distance migrations.

The level of movement of the bird will vary depending on local conditions. The bird’s sedentary behavior, coupled with their quiescent response to being disturbed, illustrates their adaptation to the challenging environment they inhabit.

Diet and Foraging

The Double-banded Courser is a ground-dwelling bird species that feeds primarily on insects and other small invertebrates. The bird is active during the day and spends most of its time foraging on the ground while looking for prey.

The species uses visual cues and chases prey across the ground to catch it. The bird is also known to perform a hopping-style movement when busy with foraging, looking like a grasshopper as it moves across the ground.

Feeding

Double-banded Coursers feed primarily on insects, but they also consume other invertebrates, such as spiders, millipedes, and scorpions. The bird feeds while walking or running on the ground and stalking their prey with a low head.

They use active foraging behaviors to rustle the leaves and seek their prey while browsing, probing the soil with their bill, and gleaning insects off bushes or rocks.

Diet

The bird’s diet depends on the availability of prey in their habitat. The species’ diet consists of a diverse range of insects, with beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and ants being common prey.

The bird’s diet is also influenced by seasonality since during the breeding season, the Double-banded Courser feeds less frequently than usual due to the increased energy demands of reproduction.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Double-banded Courser is well adapted to the hot, arid habitats it inhabits. The bird has several adaptations that help it cope with high temperatures and low water availability in its environment.

These adaptations include a metabolic rate that is lower than that of similar-sized birds, allowing the bird to conserve energy. The bird’s metabolic adaptation means it enables the bird to sustain its high activity level for extended periods without requiring frequent feeding.

Double-banded Courser’s also regulate their body temperature differently than most birds. The species has a higher body temperature than most birds, typically ranging from 42.1C to 43.2C, which helps it to stay active when other species would become inactive due to the heat.

When the birds body temperature rises to exceed the upper end of the range, the bird seeks out a shady spot and pant to regulate their body temperature.

Sounds and Vocal

Behavior

The Double-banded Courser produces vocalizations as part of its communication and territorial behavior. The bird is known for its distinctive calls, which include harsh, hoarse, rattling sounds that can be heard over long distances.

Vocalization

The bird’s vocalizations are used primarily for communication between individuals and as part of territorial behavior. The bird emits a variety of calls, including a rhythmic, nasal buzzing sound that sounds like a repetitive zzhip, zzhip, zzhip.

The bird also produces a rapid series of rattling, hissing, and clicking sounds that it uses to communicate with other birds near its territory. The Double-banded Courser’s vocalizations are essential for communication, especially during the breeding season, which the males use to communicate their position and their willingness to breed.

Because the bird is nocturnal and often silent during the day, vocalizations are crucial in enabling the birds to establish territories and maintain social bonds. In conclusion, the Double-banded Courser is a ground-dwelling bird species with a diet of insects and other small invertebrates.

The bird has numerous adaptations that enable it to thrive in the hot, arid environments it inhabits, including a lower metabolic rate than similar-sized birds and a higher body temperature. The bird uses vocalizations as a means of communication and territorial behavior, producing harsh, rattling sounds that are distinctive in their range and style.

The bird’s unique adaptations, coupled with its vocalizations, illustrate the bird’s distinctive character and its ability to survive in challenging environments.

Behavior

The Double-banded Courser is generally a sedentary bird that is active mainly during the day. In its natural environment, the bird has several typical behaviors that are critical to its survival and reproductive success.

Locomotion

The Double-banded Courser is primarily terrestrial and is adapted to life on the ground. The bird has long legs and toes, which are specialized for walking and running on the ground.

The bird is also known to perform a hopping-style movement when foraging, which enables it to catch prey more efficiently. Seventy-five percent of the bird’s time is spent foraging, while the remaining time is spent in loafing, resting, or being vigilant.

The bird moves around during the day and roosts by night. The Double-banded Courser has long been observed being active during full moon nights where it seems to hunt in unusually populated areas.

Self Maintenance

Like other birds, the Double-banded Courser engages in self-maintenance behaviors, such as preening, bathing, and sunbathing. Sunbathing is a critical behavior in this species, as it warms and dries the feathers after washing by humidity.

The bird’s preening behavior is particularly vital in maintaining the structure and condition of their feathers. Agonistic

Behavior

The Double-banded Courser can be territiorial, especially during the breeding season.

The bird’s agonistic behavior includes threatening postures, vocalizations, and chest bumping. These conflicts are typical between males attempting to establish territories that contain suitable sites for nesting and rearing offspring.

Sexual

Behavior

During the breeding season, the male Double-banded Courser displays sexual behavior by performing courtship rituals and displays, such as wing-flashing and ground-dancing with his tail held high and vibrating. The bird also makes a loud, distinctive call to attract females and deter males from encroaching on his territory.

Breeding

Double-banded Coursers are monogamous and mate for life. During the breeding season, the birds form pairs that establish territories that contain suitable sites for nesting and rearing offspring.

The breeding season in eastern Africa occurs from October to May. In southern Africa, it is from October to April, which is two months earlier than it is in eastern Africa.

The Double-banded Courser breeds annually, with both males and females engaged in looking after their young. The nest is a simple scrape in the ground, sometimes hidden by a clump of grass or a small bush.

The female lays two to three eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The eggs are brown with dark brown to black spots.

Demography and Populations

The Double-banded Courser is not listed as threatened, but the species’ populations are declining in some parts of its range. The primary threats to the bird’s populations are habitat destruction, fragmentation, and disturbance.

Many of the birds’ habitats are threatened by human activities such as deforestation, agriculture, and development. The exact population size of the Double-banded Courser is unknown, although various studies suggest that the species’ population is declining.

The loss of suitable habitat is the primary cause of the bird’s population decline, and although the bird is not currently protected by international conservation policies, its importance as an ecosystem indicator and its

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