Stalwart of the Karoo

Karoo Korhaan – Eupodotis vigorsii (Afrikaans: Vaalkorhaan)

The Karoo Korhaan is endemic to southern Africa, with the largest numbers found in the shrubland of the Nama Karoo (lower concentrations in the Succulent Karoo, and absent from grasslands and the coastal areas of Namaqualand). The bird’s range extends from the Fish River in the Eastern Cape, the western Free State, through the Karoo to the southern half of Namibia. To the south it also occurs in cultivated fields on the Agulhas Plain.

It is a medium- to large-sized bird, about 60 cm long from tip to tail, standing about 25 cm high at the shoulder, with quite a long neck of about 14 cm.

In Bushmanland, where I took my photographs, two sub-species occur together: Eupodotis vigorsii vigorsii, which is a darker brown; and E. v. namaqua, which is a much paler, sandy colour.

We always regarded them as the stalwarts of the arid regions, as they remain in their territories, rain or no rain. They are territorial, spending their whole lives in their chosen areas, in dry flat open country, rocky with sparse, low bushes.

In Bushmanland the 16 nests that we recorded each contained one egg only. The paler bird lays a sandy-coloured egg, like the bird itself, while the darker bird lays a dark brown egg. The nest is always completely exposed. We noticed that the egg always hatched at night.
When disturbed, a command from the parent freezes the chick, in the open. It will not move even if touched by hand, until the command is given to move.

The Karoo Korhaan’s distinctive call (described as “bullfrog-like) is a croaking sound, usually a duet, but the two sounds are not identical. The local name for this bird is “Hotnot Platvoet”, which perfectly describes the call.

At drinking pools on the farm we spent many days in a well-camouflaged hide photographing desert birds that came to drink, but never once did we record a Karoo Korhaan at the water. They probably obtain all the moisture they need from their food – insects, green shoots on bushes, seeds, fruit (berries) on the bushes and many species of caterpillars.

Some birds like the Namaqua Sandgrouse (Kelkiewyn), Sclater’s Lark, other larks, and also a number of smaller birds remain in Bushmanland even after three to five years of drought. On the other hand you have what we called the “free-loaders” – birds that arrive in huge flocks after good rain to nest and feed on the bounty of locusts and other insects and plants that develop or hatch after the rain; only to move off again after breeding.

To photograph birds, I have climbed trees and rock faces, and sat in hides for many hours on end, but watching the not-so-glamorous Karoo Korhaan going about its daily business has been one of my favourites.

Grey Heron on nest
A Karoo Korhaan at its nest with its solitary egg

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The Karoo Korhaan giving its distinctive call, with its head thrown back
Grey Heron