The rugged mountains of the Cape Peninsula though rich in numerous plant species, do not support a wealth of bird-life. The barren rocky cliffs and exposed rocky outcrops provide little in the way of food or shelter, and it stands to reason that the few birds which are found there are well suited to the climate and habitat in which they live.
Common Birds in the Cape Peninsula Mountains
Here are the more common birds you are likely to find on your walks in the Cape Peninsula mountains. For a more complete picture and to help you correctly identify the birds, refer to Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa; Ian Sinclair’s field Guide to the birds of Southern africa; or Birds of the South Western Cape by Joy frandsen. A comprehensive list of birds recorded at Kirstenbosch is available from the National Botanical Gardens.
Birds to look out for
On the boulder-strewn upper slopes of the Table Mountain Range, look for the Cape Rock Thrush and the wary Ground Woodpecker. The steep cliff faces above the contour path provide safe nesting sites for two prominent residents, the Redwinged Starling and the Rock Pigeon. Black Swifts are particularly noticeable in summer wheeling high in the sky or near the cliff faces where they nest in inaccessible vertical cracks under an overhang. The Rock Martin, a brown swallow-like bird can be seen all year round in rocky and mountainous terrain.
Overhead look for the majestic Black Eagle. Although it is not all that common, there are at least four pairs resident in the Cape Peninsula. It is usually seen soaring high above the mountain crags in search of dassies which form its staple prey. Surprisingly this bird is not all black, but viewed from above it has broad white markings on the back and rump. Another bird of prey to look out for is the chestnut-coloured Rock Kestrel.
At most times of the year in the fynbos, you are likely to see the Cape Sugarbird which is attracted to the sweet nectar of the Protea flowers. During its conspicuous undulating display flight, the male’s long beak and streamer-like tail make it instantly recognisable. Another fynbos resident is the Orangebreasted Sunbird , which is found in stands of Proteas and Ericas in Kirstenbosch, on the top and along the Western slopes of Table Mountain. the brightly-coloured male usually calls from a vantage point on a tall shrub.
Two other common residents of the fynbos and surrounding dense bush, are the Cape Bulbul and the Cape Francolin, a fairly large gamebird with mottled brown plumage and red legs. Not as easily identified is the Grassbird or ‘lollipop bird’ as it is sometimes known because of its plump chestnut-brown chest and longish tail. Look for it in long grass or skulking in bushes.
The small pockets of natural forest seldom harbour many birds. At the forest edge look for Cape Batis, Sombre Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Dusky Flycatcher and Paradise Flycatcher. In the forest canopy and in fruiting trees and large shrubs, especially along the contour path near Cecilia Forest and Kirstenbosch, the Rameron Pigeon is evident, while the shy Cinnamon Dove haunts the forest floor. A forest bird more often heard than seen is the Redchested Cuckoo or Piet-my-vrou, a summer migrant which mainly parasites the nests of the Cape Robin.
And finally look out for LBJs – little brown jobs – which are those drab brown birds that are almost impossible to identify. LBJs to look for include the Cape Bunting, Cape Siskin – a canary like bird found in pairs or small parties feeding on seeds and insects. Familiar Chat – found on rock outcrops, Greybacked Cisticola, Neddicky and Karoo Prinia.