On our afternoon game drive the other day we came across a herd of Zebra and some Oxpecker birds. A herd of Zebra normally comprises of the dominant stallion and his harem of females or mares and their foals. This particular herd had a very young foal of less than a month old. Newborn zebra foals’ coats are shaggy with brownish or buff stripes. This is thought to camouflage the youngster and protect it to a certain degree from insect bites.
In our area there is a species of bird known as the Red Billed Oxpecker that will often associate and interact with many antelope and larger species, including zebra. These birds are extremely specialized feeders and their bills are designed to feed of the ectoparasites of different animals. They take of parasites by utilizing a scissor like action of the bill.
As the guests and I were watching the zebra and the oxpeckers interacting I noticed that one particular oxpecker was sitting on the rump of the young foal with a collection of soft brown hair in its bill. I knew that oxpeckers would collect hair from certain animals but this was the first time I actually got to see this unique behavior. The reason they collect hair is to line their nests which are usually in the holes of trees.
Most of the time oxpeckers would use the adult hair which is far more coarse and thus quite a bit more difficult to remove. This particular oxpecker however saw the opportunity of lining the last layer of the nest with much softer and more easily extracted hair from the young zebra foal.
In nature it is all about preserving energy and this clever oxpecker saw a much less energy expendant way to line their nest.
Mike Duncan Powell – Southern Camp