Decreasing margins in farming enterprises and other issues can lead to farming more intensively – and to farm in new areas. This places pressure on natural systems and the birds and other animals which inhabit these areas.
A large number of birds on a farm does not automatically indicate a healthy bird population. The visible birds might abound on that farm owing to a particular resource or crop. What about the bird species which do not fit into this category? There might be some which occurred naturally in the area whose numbers drop dramatically or completely.
Farms with variety are bird-friendly farms
Whatever type of farming is practiced, there are ways of reducing the impact on bird diversity. Careful planning of new lands or any other developments which will alter the natural habitat is important. A good principle is to maintain a mosaic of different land uses on a farm. Even if a large part of the area of the farm is utilised, a range of different land uses and an intact variety of different micro-habitats will ensure a greater variety of birds can benefit from the farm.
Farm well to reduce habitat change
Alternatives to the establishment of new lands should be sought, such as more efficient farming methods to obtain increased yields from the existing lands. In general, good farming methods promote the wellbeing of the natural resources and are desirable. Even a simple example such as overgrazing of veld and too frequent veld fires will lead to habitat changes, inevitably leading to a reduction in certain bird species.
Birds need corridors too
While birds can fly, many will not fly from one isolated patch of natural vegetation to another, whereas they would move along a natural corridor. Corridors of natural vegetation should be left between lands and between buildings to allow for movement of birds and other animals. Movement to water should also be encouraged by leaving corridors of natural vegetation leading to water sources. While considering bird movement, also look at commonly-used flight paths before erecting high fences, power lines, telephone lines, wind turbines and solar panels. Large birds, including many endangered birds, are often injured or killed when they collide with prominent structures. Where tall structures are erected, visibility aids should be used in areas of increased bird movement, such by marking power lines with flappers of other similar devices.
Use the right control methods right
Plagues, pests and weeds are a fact of farming, and must be controlled for efficient production. Control does not mean eradication, and control at a tolerable level should be considered. Natural, low impact methods should be employed wherever possible. Carefully chosen biological agents are the ideal. Birds may in fact constitute just such a biological management aid, such as the oxpeckers of the bushveld which pick and eat large amounts of ticks off cattle and other large animals in a year. Similarly owls can be used as a biological control method for rodents. Erecting owl boxes will help to attract owls to the property (see next heading).
Where the use of chemicals is necessary, careful research should be done to choose the product which will do the job with the least impact over the long term. Biodegradability, frequency of use, effects on other organisms, and accuracy of application are all important factors to consider in making a choice. Once the product is selected, the instructions of use should be followed closely, and all possible efforts must be made to avoid effects on other organisms, also known as non-target species. Insecticides are particularly dangerous, and suppliers and manufacturers should be quizzed regarding the above issues.
Farming and birds can mix
Just as one must know the life-cycles of the pests to combat them, so by getting to know the birds’ behaviour, feeding and nesting habits, one can design new developments and general farming practices to promote their wellbeing. As custodians of the earth and the biodiversity in it, this is our duty and not a luxury.
Source: Dr At Kruger, Dr Pete Irons, Denokeng Bird Bash, Seringveld Conservancy, Gauteng Conservancy Association
Find Bird-friendly burning and grazing best-practice for grasslands (in English, Afrikaans and Zulu) and other publications at www.birdlife.org.za.
Three beneficial birds
Farmers are encouraged to look after the welfare of owls, a natural predator of grain pests like mice. Owls (and bats) are an environmentally friendly way of controlling pests at minimal cost. An adult barn owl will take care of two rodents a night and a bat will eat over 50% of its body weight in insects in the same time.
- Many owls are victims of secondary or accidental poisoning through build up of insecticides in the body of the owl and through the use of rat poisons. The poison in the rats body often ends up killing the owl. It is important to realise that any poison used in the garden or farmyard can affect beneficial animals, such as owls. There are poison blocks which do not result in secondary poisoning.
- Chicks on the ground should be left where they are so that the parents can continue to look after them. Most owl chicks found on the ground have not been abandoned and the best thing to do in most cases is to leave the bird where it is.
- Keep the area as natural as possible.
- Avoid poisons of all kinds.
- Provide safe nesting boxes: this could improve their breeding success. The Barn Owl prefers a closed box with just a small opening for entry, while the Spotted Eagle-Owl prefers a more open box, from which it can scan its surroundings. Two simple models may be found in the book listed below (see source acknowledgement).
Find information at www.deltaenviro.org.za (the source of some of the information above). Role players like the EWT, EcoSolutions, CS Vet, Owl Rescue Centre, the Urban Raptor Project, Radical Raptors and the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary can also help you. Find contact details under the “Role players” heading.
Source: A Beginner’s Guide to Owls. The booklet is available from the Delta Environmental Centre.
Find out about oxpecker-friendly dips on the market.
The red-billed Oxpecker can be one of the farmer’s greatest natural allies on game and cattle farms, making it very important to employ farming practices which offer the bird the best chance of survival by managing tick infestations with the correct products and management protocols.
Dipping against ticks almost eradicated the red-billed Oxpeckers in South Africa. Fortunately, the introduction of environmentally-compatible chemicals, pyrethroid and amidine acaricides brought new hope for oxpeckers. For more information on (i) how to phase in oxpecker-friendly dips, then lessen dip-dependence by phasing in the oxpecker, and (ii) to order the Oxpeckers, Ectoparasiticides and Farmers Manual please contact the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
Vultures play a critical part in maintaining the ecological health of the planet. Their digestive systems mean that they can absorb cholera, rabies and prevent disease from spreading. Unfortunately they are one of the fastest declining groups of animals in the world. Members of the public are encouraged to report vulture fatalities to the EWT. The Vulture Conservation Programme of South Africa (see Vulpro under “Role players”) assists with vultures or other large birds which need help.
Download “The Sasol Guide to the establishment and operation of supplementary feeding sites for vultures” from the EWT website at https://ewt.org.za/resources/.
South African birds in trouble
In South Africa, birds that require particular attention include:
- The Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus), the most severely threatened crane on the African continent and found on the country’s grasslands;
- The Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum);
- The Taita Falcon (Falco taita) , found on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga and Limpopo;
- The South African Blue Swallow population (Hirundo atrocaerulea) is locally classified as critically endangered;
- The White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi), regionally critically endangered and dependent on good quality available wetland habitat across its distribution;
- The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) are critically endangered;
- Southern banded snake eagle (Circaetus fasciolatus), found in northern KZN;
- Ludwig’s Bustard (Neotis ludwigii) and Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami), threatened by collisions with transmission power-lines, and the Blue Korhaan (Eupodotis caerulescens), Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra) and White-bellied Korhaan (Eupodotis senegalensis), grassland dwellers, are in trouble;
- The Red Lark (Calendulauda burra), Rudd’s Lark (Heteromirafra ruddi) and Botha’s Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris);
- Yellow-Breasted Pipit (Hemimacronyx chloris);
- The endemic Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus), found across the grasslands of South Africa and dependent on good land use practices for its survival;
- The Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius);
- Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), found on the West Coast is globally critically endangered;
- Other coastal birds on the list are the Knysna Scrub Warbler (Bradypterus sylvaticus) Leach’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), Crozet shag (Phalacrocorax melanogenis) and the Damara tern (Sterna balaenarum).
- Find pictures and the latest information at www.iucnredlist.org.
- Bega S. 2020, December 15. “Africa’s iconic raptors are soaring into oblivion”. Mail & Guardian. Available at https://mg.co.za/environment/2020-12-15-africas-iconic-raptors-are-soaring-into-oblivion/
- Sawe B.E. 2018, November 6. “Endangered Birds of South Africa”. World Atlas. Available at www.worldatlas.com/articles/threatened-endemic-birds-of-south-africa.html
Local business environment
Avitourism, the travel for the purpose of bird watching, is reputed to be one of the fastest growing nature-based tourism activities worldwide. Some of the key findings of the study, done by the then Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) to investigate the value and growth potential of avitourism, indicate that:
- the total size of South Africa’s current Avitourism market range between 21 000 and 40 000 avitourists annually, of which between 13 000 and 24 000 are domestic avitourists;
- avitourists generally offer higher than average trip spend, longer trip lengths and a greater tendency to visit multiple provinces than mainstream market segments; and
- South Africa has attractive core birding assets compared to competitor destinations, particularly in areas of species diversity, endemism and rarity.
Find the Department of Trade and Industry study, Avitourism in South Africa (Niche Tourism Markets) on the internet.
- Find the contact details of conservancies on the “Conservancies and farming” page.
- Several Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA)-accredited companies offer birding courses e.g. Africa Nature Training, EcoTraining South Africa and Limpopo Field Guiding Academy.
- Other universities relevant to this page include Rhodes University, University of the Witwatersrand, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier on this page, like www.birdlife.org.za.
- Harrison, J. & Young, D. 2010. Farming for the future: farming sustainably with nature. Cape Town: Animal Demography Unit. The book includes attractive and useful notes on birds. Download it at http://www.adu.org.za/docs/farming_for_the_future_lr.pdf
- Find “Bird-friendly burning and grazing best-practice for grasslands” at www.birdlife.org.za/publications/grassland-best-practice
- African Birdlife, published by Birdlife SA every two months. Find details here.
- Barnes, K. N. (Ed.). 2000. The Eskom red data book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.
- Die Voëlgids van Suider-Afrika (Ulrich Oberprieler, Burger Cillié) can be ordered at www.lapa.co.za. The English version is entitled The Bird Guide of Southern Africa. Order it at www.gameparkspublishing.co.za. Another book by Burger Cillié is Eagles of Africa (available in Afrikaans too, Arende van Afrika).
- The Sasol bird books can can be ordered at www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za: (i) Sasol Birds of Southern Africa (ii) Sasol Voëls van Suider-Afrika (iii) Sasol Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa IV, Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter Ryan (iv) Sasol Checklist of Birds in Southern Africa, Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter Ryan. Read more about the books at www.sasolbirds.co.za. Ian Sinclair has written several books on birds. Find these also under Struik Nature at www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za.
- Also at www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za is 500 common bird calls in Southern Africa, a CD-guide combination by Doug Newman, and Newman’s Birds by Colour at www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za. Read about the available app at www.newmansbirdsapp.com.
- Find information on the different Roberts Birds books at www.robertsbirds.co.za. These are also a multimedia app now. Titles include: (i) Roberts Birds VII (ii) Roberts Bird Guide (iii) Roberts Voëlgids (iv) Roberts Bird Guide Kruger National Park (v) Kruger National Park Bird Checklist.
- Visit Roberts Online Birds of Southern Africa, www.robertsonline.co.za.
- Southern African Birdfinder and Essential Birding, Western South Africa by Callan Cohen and Claire Spottiswoode. Linked to the latter book is the website, www.capebirdingroute.org.
- Voëls van die bosveld SC Kidson, HL van Niekerk ISBN 978-1-875093-88-5. To order, visit www.kejafa.com or www.briza.co.za.
- Remarkable Birds of South Africa by Dr Peter Milstein, published by Briza. Visit www.briza.co.za.
- Adventures With Nature stocks several books on birds e.g. Sasol Birds, Newman’s Series and the Roberts Series. Call 011 954 4675 or visit http://awnbooks.co.za.
- Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron’s two volume set The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africa can be ordered at www.birdbook.co.za.
- Visit the Indicator Birding website, www.birding.co.za, for updates on birding courses, birding tours etc.
- http://sabap2.adu.org.za – Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2, “Mapping the distribution and abundance of birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland”
- www.worldmigratorybirdday.org – World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is a global initiative devoted to celebrating migratory birds and for promoting their conservation worldwide.
- Southern Africa Birding, Birding Multimedia for Southern Africa – www.sabirding.co.za
- The International Crane Foundation – www.savingcranes.org
- www.sanccob.co.za, website of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds
- Find information on owls at www.owlpages.com
- Find details of Ostrich Journal of African Ornithology at www.nisc.co.za.
- Bird Watchers’ Digest www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/
- Read the Agribook blogs like (i) “Owl-inspired wisdom solves mystery”, (ii) “Farmers, bankers, conservationists (part 1)” which covers a trip to John Campbell’s Ivanhoe Farm where wattle crane and owls feature, and (iii) “The importance of feeding on rotting meat” about vultures and their role in maintaining biosecurity.
- Du Toit D & Thompson L. 2023. “The connection between raptors and human well-being”. Endangered Wildlife Trust. Available at https://ewt.org.za/raptors-and-human-health
- Kettel E. 2023, February 22. “In defence of vultures, nature’s early-warning systems that are holy to many people”. The Conversation. Available at https://theconversation.com/in-defence-of-vultures-natures-early-warning-systems-that-are-holy-to-many-people-195410
- Madiba T. 2022, December 12. “Comment invited on draft vulture biodiversity plan”. Polity. Available at www.polity.org.za/article/comment-invited-on-draft-vultures-biodiversity-plan-2022-12-12
- Nairn C. 2020, December 8. “Study: Birds Are Linked to Happiness Levels”. EcoWatch. Available at www.ecowatch.com/birds-happiness-study-2649413979.html
- Viljoen A. & Van Zyl C. 2020, August 22. “Birdwatching: a novel income opportunity for farms”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/lifestyle/agritourism/birdwatching-a-novel-income-opportunity-for-farms
- Daley J. 2019, September 12. “Migrating Birds May Be Collateral Damage for a Popular Pesticide”. Scientific American. Available at www.scientificamerican.com/article/migrating-birds-may-be-collateral-damage-for-a-popular-pesticide/
- Find “Rehabilitated owls find a new home in ZZ2’s eco-friendly farmlands” (June 2018) on the ZZ2 website.
- Barkham P. 2018, March 23. “EU in ‘state of denial’ over destructive impact of farming on wildlife”. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/23/eu-in-state-of-denial-over-destructive-impact-of-farming-on-wildlife
- Franzen J. 2018, March 23. “The radical otherness of birds: Jonathan Franzen on why they matter”. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/23/the-radical-otherness-of-birds-jonathan-franzen-on-why-they-matter
Share this article