Posted on Tue October 19, 2021.

Another interesting article, this time about an interesting bird, by Alan Holmes, an eclectic author, who is a permanent resident in Marloth Park and an avid lover of all things natural and Kruger Park.

The White-crested Helmet Shrike, also known as the White Helmet Shrike, is a common sighting in Marloth Park. These little black and white birds with their big yellow eyes with the “topknot” just above their eyes, travel in flocks, maintaining a constant twittering conversation as they flit from tree to tree.

These fascinating creatures also exhibit cooperative traits very seldom seen among bird species. For example, the flock is led by an Alpha pair, very much in love by the looks of things! This Alpha pair constantly preen each other as they spend their busy days finding the insects and other small invertebrates that form their diet.

Only the Alpha pair in the flock breed, but every individual helps with nest building, hatching the eggs and feeding the young when they hatch. This evolutionary survival strategy has served these birds well! Although unusual for birds, it works for White Helmet Shrikes!

When it comes to nest building, the “topknot”, or “helmet” shows the reason for its presence. The nest is made of bits of bark tied together with lengths of spider web. The birds collect this resource by flying through spider webs and the “helmet” collects the web needed to construct the nest. The nest site is a busy place as one after the other, the birds arrive and work on the nest with the material they have collected, before flying off and making space for the next member of the flock.

Feeding the hatchlings reveals more fascinating cooperative behaviour! Most members of the flock will make a noisy fuss at a site away from the actual nest, to distract predators, while a few others will quietly do the actual feeding.

What an amazing evolutionary adaptation!

These lovely birds can be viewed often from the comfort of the deck at Needles Lodge, a luxury safari lodge in the heart of the bushveld in Marloth Park.