20 C
Mossel Bay
23rd Mar 2023
Nature & Nurture


A neighbour rang to tell me she’d found a Karoo Prinia nest near the house. Their garden is landscaped around many large indigenous trees, including some fine Wild Olives. I was therefore somewhat surprised when she added that the nest was located in the broad bean plants in her vegetable garden.

Sure enough, the loosely-woven nest was no more than waist height, slung between a couple of stalks. Peeking through the side-top entrance, I could see four tiny speckled eggs. I resolved to return with my camera, but instead completely forgot about the prinias until the neighbour announced that the eggs had hatched.

I noticed that I could see clear through the nest at the top. It appeared that some wind damage had opened up a hole opposite the entrance, and my pocket camera was a perfect fit.

At one day old the chicks were minute and featherless, like mini jelly babies. We hatch a lot of chicken eggs, so I’m used to babies bursting out of their eggs fluffy, bright-eyed and chipper. My fiddling caused the nest to vibrate and the jelly babies, as one, opened hopeful, yellow gapes. They seemed completely defenceless, and I doubted that they would survive the resident nest-raiding boomslang, not to mention the house menagerie of dogs and five cats.

There was a complete transformation by day four. The chicks were much larger, with their eyes now open and their bodies covered in hedgehog-like quills. They were still quick to demand food from me. This was the only day I caught sight of an adult – it landed nearby with a caterpillar in its beak, cleared its throat to prompt me to move, and disappeared into the nest.

By day eight, the feathers appeared to be almost fully formed, apart from spiky bits above their beaks, and there were occasional glimpses of the diagnostic streaky breast. I was now having trouble getting them into frame, so much had they grown. They peered at me apparently without fear (or too much interest, actually, obviously having decided I was neither predator nor provider).

By my calculation, the nestlings would fledge on the Sunday (day ten). Sunday, however, turned out wet, windy and cold and I wagered that the birds would sensibly sit tight till the sun came out. Sure enough, on Monday morn the four babes were still snuggled patiently in their now very bedraggled nest. I was desperate to record the moment of their leaving, but sadly, hardly had I turned my back than they slipped off, never to be seen again.

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