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ID #5389

African Oxpeckers, Johan Taljaard, Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng.

Oxpeckers are two species of bird which make up the family (Buphagidae). Some ornithologists regard them as a subfamily Buphaginae within the starling family (Sturnidae) but they appear to be quite distinct. Oxpeckers are endemic to the savanna of Sub-Saharan Africa. Both the English and scientific names arise from their habit of perching on large mammals (both wild and domesticated) such as cattle or rhinoceros, and eating ticks, botfly larvae, and other parasites. The Afrikaans names Geelbekrenostervoel en Rooibekrenostervoel, directly translated, mean rhino bird

According to the more recent studies of Muscicapoidea phylogeny,the oxpeckers are an ancient line related to Mimidae (mockingbirds and thrushes) and starlings but not particularly close to either. Considering the known biogeography of these groups, the most plausible explanation seems that the oxpecker lineage originated in Eastern or Southeastern Asia like the other two. This would make the two species of Buphagus something like living fossils, and elegantly demonstrates that such remnants of past evolution can possess striking and unique autapomorphic adaptations.

Distribution and habitat: Oxpeckers are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, where they occur in most open habitats. They are absent from the driest deserts as well as rainforests. Their distribution is restricted by the presence of their preferred prey, specific species of ticks, and the animal hosts of those ticks. Over much of East Africa the two species are sympatric (have overlapping distribution) and may even occur on the same host animal. The nature of the interactions between the two species is unknown.

•    Behaviour-  Oxpeckers are fairly gregarious.

•    Diet and feeding - Oxpeckers feed exclusively on the backs of large mammals. Certain species are seemingly preferred, whereas others, like the Lichtenstein's hartebeest or topi are generally avoided. Smaller antelope such as lechwe, duikers and reedbuck are also avoided, the smallest regularly used species is the impala, probably because of the heavy tick load and social nature of that species. In many parts of their range they now feed on cattle, but avoid camels. They feed on ectoparasites, particularly ticks, as well as insects infecting wounds and the flesh and blood of some wounds as well.

•    Oxpecker/mammal interactions are the subject of some debate and ongoing research. They were originally thought to be an example of mutualism, but recent evidence suggests that oxpeckers may be parasites instead. Oxpeckers do eat ticks, but often the ticks have already fed on the ungulate host and there has been no proven link between oxpecker presence and reduced ectoparasite load. However one study of impalas found that impalas which were used by oxpeckers spent less time grooming themselves suggesting a reduction in parasite load. Oxpeckers have been observed to open new wounds and enhance existing ones in order to drink the blood of their perches. Oxpeckers also feed on the earwax and dandruff of mammals, although less is known about the benefits of this to the mammal, it is suspected that this is also parasitic behaviour. Some hosts are intolerant of their presence. Elephants and some antelope will actively dislodge the oxpeckers when they land. Other species tolerate oxpeckers while they search for ticks on the face, what one author described as "an uncomfortable and invasive process".

Note the numbers refer to the listing in The South African Birding Guide: #771 is the Yellow Billed Oxpecker and #772 Is the Red billed Oxpecker


attached files: 771 11 untitled-1-57 (5)_1.jpg, 772 Oxpecker_1.jpg, 771 11 untitled-1-57 (2)_1.jpg, 772 ox pecker impala 2_1.jpg, 771 11 untitled-1-57 (9)_1.jpg, 772 ox pecker impala_1.jpg, 771 11 untitled-1-57 (10)_1.jpg

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Last update: 2014-03-21 22:38
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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