Daring parents

It seems that the Three-banded plover (Charadrius tricollaris) has a knack for living dangerously or rather incubating dangerously.

I rarely find ground birds’ nests. In fact, I have only found two so far and both belong to this little plover!

The first nest I found was at the Maputo Special Reserve in 2011 near Milibangalala while driving through a stretch of road between the woodlands and one of the swampy areas. There, by the shore and almost on the road, we noted the nest as the bird stayed on its eggs up to the last minute until we almost drove upon it and only then it moved a couple of meters to wait for the danger to pass so that it could return.


The first nest in Mozambique.

We spotted two eggs (the normal number) rather large for the bird’s size that looked very much like round pebbles and melted very well with the ashy background.

We found our second nesting bird at Mana Pools this past August and I have already given an advance of it at an earlier post[1]. This time the nest was about one kilometre from the Zambezi River but probably nearer some of the pools. As with the nest in Mozambique, the bird would run off a couple of metres away when we drove past and return to the nest soon afterwards.

Again, there was no nest to speak of and the two dark grey eggs had been laid on the ground in a small area of about 7-8 cm across, among some stones at the very edge of the road. After watching the nest for a while we noted that there were two birds taking turns to sit on it. As soon as its shift was over, the relieved bird did not stay and flew off, probably to feed and drink although we did not see where it went.

Although the birds sat on the eggs, they were also seen standing over them as if shading them from the direct solar heat. At some stage we observed the absence of both birds for a few hours and became concerned that we or other cars passing had disturbed them. The following day we saw them back. In the absence of the birds the eggs are extremely difficult to spot among all the small stones.

It appears unlikely that such a seemingly unsafe choice of nesting site would be successful as the eggs were completely exposed in the absence of the birds. Further, the birds themselves do not seem to offer much protection to the many predators, scaly, feathered and hairy that roam around the area, not to mention the stones thrown by passing cars. Despite these apparently large odds against them, the strategy must work as they are fairly common!

As a note of interest, searching the web I found an account of this bird’s nesting habits in Eritrea written by Stephanie Tyler while she and her husband -Lindsay- were kidnapped by guerrillas in the north-east of the country [2]. Her interest on the birds and the observations she made while being held captive are remarkable. She also stresses the bird’s tolerance to the approach of humans, their failures with the incubation and rearing of the chicks as well as the first observation that the Three-banded plovers are multiple brooded or able to raise more than one brood of young in quick succession. We can say that Three-banded plovers are tough parents!

A video that shows the nesting behaviour of the birds and the “change over” their nesting duties.


[1] See:

[2] Tyler, S. (1978). Observations on the nesting of the three-banded plover Charadrius tricollaris. Scopus 2, 39-41. If interested on the details, the original communication is here: 


DIY Eagle

We spotted the large but simple nest at about 100m from the road between Main Camp and Nyamandlovu pan in Hwange National Park, (Zimbabwe) when we visited this park last July. We looked for its owner for a while and, a couple of hundred metres ahead, we found a suspect: an adult Martial Eagle perched on a large acacia tree at about four metres from the ground. To find the largest African eagle is always exciting as they are great hunters and able to kill rather large prey.

We stopped to take pictures and, as usual, we took the first one from a prudent distance and with the engine on, before getting a bit closer for better ones. We stayed put as we noticed that there was something odd. “Look!” one of us said, “it is entangled in a thorny branch” We all looked and, true to the observation, the eagle seemed to be hooked on thorns and making frantic movements with its head to release itself.

The only picture of the Martial eagle.

The only picture of the Martial eagle.

Awe-struck and concerned we forgot about pictures and started speculating on the sighting. Some of us maintained the entangling theory while others thought that it was catching or eating something. We all agreed, however, that something odd was taking place! We could only watch and wait…

After a few nervous minutes we noted that, apparently, the eagle did not have a prey. Immediately she also, somehow miraculously, stopped shaking its head and looked quite totally unconcerned. However, it was still holding a longish branch!

In fact, it had never been tangled or eating but in the process of cutting a thorny branch and it had just completed the task! Without more ado, the branch was placed in its talons and off it went, landing on the nest we had seen earlier!

A subsequent Internet search did not reveal a record of such behaviour. Although I believe it to be known to specialists in birds of prey, I reported it here just in case as it was an interesting, if anxious, observati