Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"
This time I bring you one of my personal favourites, a Crested Francolin, Dendroperdix sephaena. Francolins are sometimes called partridges, sometimes spurfowl. They constitute a large group of partridge-like birds that live in Africa, ranging from rainforests to deserts, displaying an amazing diversity of subtle, camouflage feather patterns. The crested francolin is one that is seen often here in South Africa. Its distribution stretches into northeast Africa. It is fairly tame, but difficult to see except when quite close, its brown plumage blending in with the dry twigs and grass of its favoured bush habitat. Although from afar it appears drab, from close-up its feathers can be seen to be wonderfully decorated with lines and blotches and fine barring. Its crest is actually not very noticeable; it raises its long crown feathers only rarely. However, it has the habit of raising its tail when excited, like a bantam cock. This is its most distinctive feature. But seen close, the dark cap bordering the the light eyebrow, and the fine streaks below, are also good identifying features.
This bird is unquestionably one of those with the loudest calls relative to their size. Indeed, when you're in the bush and suddenly one close to you starts calling, you will get a massive fright! It is an incredibly loud, harsh call with a ringing quality, almost as loud as a gunshot. This call is another way to identify it, even over a great distance. It is part of the bushveld atmosphere, to be heard mostly in the mornings, but also sometimes later in the day. Male and female call together in a raucous duet, the calls being used mainly to delineate their territories. They don't have very big ranges; you will encounter individuals, couples or small family groups of them every few dozen metres in suitable habitat. Rarely will male francolins fight each other over territory.
Francolins are pretty omnivorous; they scratch in the soil to unearth bulbs, roots and invertebrates; will pick seeds and fruits off the ground; will also actively hunt insects and millipedes.
Crested francolins lay from four to nine eggs per clutch. The nest is concealed by bushes or tufts of grass. The baby francolins accompany their parents from the time of hatching; like many other partridges, they become able to fly when not yet fully grown – at half adult size or less. I love coming across francolin families, even if I scare them off and I can see the little ones flying behind their parents to the nearest tree or bush for cover!
Fortunately, crested francolins are still very common over large areas in South Africa and further north, and are not endangered.