Chobe’s Collared Pratincoles

The Collared Pratincole, also known as the Common Pratincole or Red-winged Pratincole, is a wader in the pratincole family, Glareolidae. As with other pratincoles, it is native to the “Old World”. The “Old World” generally refers to Africa, Asia, and Europe. It has a Latin name Gareloa Pratincola where the term “glarea” means gravel as these birds are frequently found foraging or roosting in open gravel-like fields or floodplains.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” ~Mark Twain.

There are four types of pratincole species, the Oriental, Collared or Red-winged, Black-winged Pratincole and Rock Pratincole. The Collared and Rock species are found along the Chobe river. The Collared can be often seen on the banks of Sedudu Island in the Chobe river just up river from Kasane. The Rock Pratincole is found mainly on rocks in fast-flowing rivers. These pratincoles are usually found on the rocks around the Seboba rapids in the Chobe river down river from Kasane. The Rock Pratincole is different to other pratincoles by virtue of its small size, dark colouration, and stripes under the wings. It has a similarly shaped beak to the other pratincoles but has distinct red legs. We did not see any in June as the water level was very high and all the rocks down at the rapids were covered by water.

We typically found flocks of Collared Pratincoles roosting on the sand banks of Sedudu Island along the north channel of the Chobe river as it flowed past the island. It appeared that breeding and incubating had started.

Collared Pratincoles prefer sandbanks, mudflats, and grassy flood plains, especially if adjacent to stretches of water such as lakes, pans or large rivers. In the next image, Collared Pratincoles can be seen roosting on a narrow sand bank which was on the route taken by buffaloes and elephants moving along the northern section of Sedudu Island. Every time buffalo or elephants passed by, they took flight until the threat had passed and then returned to the same place to roost.

Breeding season is from June-December, peaking from October-December. The Collared Pratincole typically lays one to two eggs which are incubated for around 18 days. The chicks leave the nest after three days and fledge after about 25 days. Like the courser, young pratincoles are precocious, hatching with their eyes open and being able to walk one day after birth. The young birds are well camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings.

These waders have short black legs and a very long-winged “horizontal” profile. Its head is shaped like that of a courser and it has long slender wings like a courser but its legs are very short quite unlike a courser.

The Collared Pratincole is unusual, having migratory populations in both the southern and northern hemispheres. Northern birds breed in open steppes, savannas, and dry mudflats in southern Europe and southwestern Asia, and in winter in Africa. Birds that breed in southern Africa, migrate to northern Africa to spend their non-breeding season. These southern pratincoles breed in southern Africa from June-February, although along the Zambezi River they are known to breed from April-November.

The Collared Pratincole has narrow white trailing edges to wings and dark rusty underwings which distinguishes this species from similar pratincoles. It is easily distinguished by its forked tail and swallow like high aspect ratio wings. High aspect ratio wings have a narrow wingtip area, which creates less vortex induced downwash, which means a lot less induced drag. Accordingly, pratincoles are highly efficient and fast fliers.

They feed mainly in flight, catching prey aerially in a manner similar to swallows sweeping back and forth. The Collared Pratincole does most of its foraging in the evening or on moonlight nights. It will also catch invertebrates on the ground such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders and molluscs.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” ~ Henry David Thoreau.

The Collared Pratincole has a distinctive fawn collared throat and a black collar. Its back and upper area of it wing feathers are brown in colour and its belly is white. All pratincole species have a small sharp beak which is slightly decurved. The beak is red with a black tip. This pratincole has a wide gape typical of an aerial insect hunter, much like a swallow or nightjar.

“Our imagination flies – we are its shadow on the earth.” ~Vladimir Nabokov.

At times in the early morning or evening you might be privileged to watch a pratincole murmuration. This is a amazing spectacle. A murmuration is a large flock of birds that twist, turn, swoop and swirl across the sky in spectacular shape-shifting clouds. The flock moves in unison in what appears to be an aerial dance that reveals flashes of white as they turn to reveal the white of their bellies in the evening light. At first glance it looks as if the murmuration develops just for the sheer delight of flying but there is a less romantic more practical reason for these mass flights. Scientists believe that murmurations offer safety in numbers. The flock normally takes flight when a raptor approaches attracted by the sheer number of birds. Murmurations usually form over the birds’ communal roosting site.

Pratincoles occur in groups and nest in large, loosely structured colonies. Coursers are less social than this and do not nest in colonies. The nests of coursers and pratincoles are simple scrapes made in the open.

“Reason can answer questions, but imagination has to ask them.” ~ Ralph W. Gerard.

I thought I would dedicate a post to these fascinating birds. Once you have seen a pratincole murmuration is will capture your imagination. A closer look reveals a beautiful, delicate and intriguing insectivore which has features of several different birds all in one body. It is a beautiful easy flier just like swallow.

“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~ William Butler Yeats

This is the last post from our photographic trip with CNP Safaris in June last year to the Chobe river. A big thank you goes to Elana Erasmus our CNP Safari guide and long standing photo-buddy. Elana, you found us some fascinating scenes, positioned the photographic boat really well in order to take full advantage of the sightings, and your knowledge of the Chobe river was a major advantage for your photographic guests. You kept us safe but allowed us to get to dramatic, almost inaccessible scenes in shallow water with tangles of water lilies.

“Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.” ~ Unknown

Mid-winter in the southern Hemisphere is an unusual time because the flood waters are at their peak which alters the character of the river. The river bank changes dramatically forcing much of the wildlife to adapt to the higher water levels. Most of the migratory birds have gone to warmer climes but not all. I have found the Chobe river to have been one of the most productive wildlife destinations in southern Africa. I will be back!

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.” ~Carl Sagan.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

2 thoughts on “Chobe’s Collared Pratincoles

    • Hi Anne – many thanks for your positive comments. Having just retired I am now in catch up mode so will be doing posts for the next three months on trips in H2:2021. I hope you will enjoy them. Best wishes Mike

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