A gymnogene {Roberts 169} is often seen circling in the sky above Clarens. He is very easy to identify by his long tail with a broad white band across it. He is a predominantly grey coloured bird with black edging around his flight feathers as seen from below. He could possibly be confused with a Pale Chanting Goshawk but the broad white band on the of the Gymnogene is diagnostic. He occurs throughout Africa, south of the Sahara. According to Roberts, Clarens is on the edge of his normal habitat so we can consider ourselves fortunate to have him around at all.

Smaller birds, however, would not consider themselves so fortunate since gymnogene, to them, is an awful thief! He feeds on the eggs of smaller birds as well as on newly hatched chicks; he also feeds on frogs, insects, small mammals, reptiles and bats. He is a unique bird since his ‘ankle’ is double-jointed so that he can flex it backwards and even sideways enabling him to reach into holes and crevices in trees and rock faces to reach his prey: added to this ‘cunning trick’ he has a small elongated head making it easier for him to pry into confined spaces. He seems to favour weaver birds, whose nests are complex so he needs his versatile ankle joints to gain access to the inside of the nest, often hovering or clinging upside down on a branch or cliff face to achieve this. He will often drag out a small chick even if in pieces before chomping it up! Because of his thieving habits, birds such as red-winged starlings will ‘mob’ gymnogene to chase him away from their nests. No wonder the gymnogene is classified as a raptor!

For years we had a nesting pair of gymnogenes in the kloof area of Clarens; they like forest, dense woodland or wooded kloofs. I think they were driven away by veld fires because we did not see them for some years. Fortunately, they seem to have returned.

No doubt many people will be pleased that the Piet-my-vrou has quietened down somewhat and does not, now, disturb their sleep so much!

References: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa

Author: Craig Walters

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