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10 South African Birdsong Maestros Worthy of a Grammy



The 66th Grammy Awards, hosted by our very own Trevor Noah, as always, had its share of 'viral' moments. Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car' duet with Luke Combs set the internet abuzz, helping to propel the song to the top of the charts. As South Africans, we had cause for celebration as Mzansi's own Tyla clinched a Grammy for "Best African Performance".



All the talk about good music got me thinking about which Southern African birds deserve a Grammy for their singing abilities. While many singers and bands rely on fancy production and auto-tuning to sound good, these master songsters are completely natural. Often, long before we see these species, we hear them joyfully singing their hearts out.


So let's look at 10 bird species that deserve a Grammy for their singing ability.


  1. White-browed Scrub Robin


When birding in the South African bushveld, the White-browed Scrub Robin is often one of the most common calls you will hear. When I was starting as a birder, many times I would get stumped when I heard this songster singing from deep within the thickets. They often sing almost non-stop, with their call echoing through the bushveld. Although at first, they seem to be a drab brown color, when you look closer you start to see the range of colors with which this bird was 'painted'. If you are starting as a birder, this is a good bird call to learn - you will hear it call a lot!



2. Southern Boubou


I led a bird walk a few years ago, there were lots of newer birders on the walk and they were asking me about certain calls that they were hearing. What fascinated them was just how many of the different calls that they were hearing were made by the Southern Boubou! This species may be common, but very often, it's heard a lot more than it gets seen. What I have always found interesting is that in our area, we hardly ever see these birds in the open. However, when I go inland and bird, it is quite easy to see them in the open.



3. Bokmakierie


This stunning bush-shrike species is found in much of South Africa. As you can hear in the embedded video, the Bokmakierie has a range of whistles and harsh calls, including the 'bok-ma-kie-rie' duet calls. In the category of the best duet in the Grammys, I think our famous Bokmakierie deserves an award. With its beautiful plumage, it wouldn't need to go out and buy a fancy outfit. It would be able to rock the red carpet arrayed in its stunning yellow, black, and grey showstopping 'outfit'.



4. Dark-backed Weaver


This is one of my favorite calls. The Afrikaans name for the bird is 'Bosmusikant' - this simply means 'bush musician'. When you hear this species calling in the forest canopies, it has a musical repertoire that would shame even the most gifted musician. So I am nominating the Dark-backed Weaver for the best instrumental artist. The only good news is that when in its habitat, you don't have to pay lots of money to enjoy its concert!



5. White Starred Robin


The White Starred Robin's song would probably see it being nominated in the dance category at the Grammy's. Its vibey call has an energy that makes it sound as if it's mixing its song on DJ decks in a club. This songster doesn't only get the club vibes going, it also has a 'star' near its eye - confirming it as the star of the show! Step aside Beyoncé - there is a new star in the hood!



6. Black-crowned Tchagra


The Grammy's have had many artists over the years who have enjoyed a bit too much of the free alcohol. We suspect that the species may also enjoy sipping on some alcoholic beverages. It calls throughout the day - well more like a drunk guy who is whistling. I have heard this species being nicknamed the 'drunken sailor'. This 'drunken' bird will fit in well around some 'tipsy' rockstars on Grammy night.



7. White-browed Robin-Chat


I couldn't resist including this video of a bundle of joy singing in a tree. Maybe we can just give the bundle of joy the Grammy for the best pop single of the year. This song is guaranteed to bring you more smiles than a Klein Kwagga dance video.



8. Orange-breasted bushshrike


The bush barrister! The far-reaching 'coffee-tea-me' call often will echo across the bushveld when you are out birding. Like many of the bush-shrikes, even though this is a 'photo-worthy 'species, it is heard a lot more than it is seen. Just in case you forget the importance of caffeine in daily intake, this bird will remind you again and again that it's time for a 'cuppa'.



9. Cape-robin Chat


Although it never won a Grammy for its musical ability, it was crowned as BirdLife South Africa's Bird of the Year in 2009. The species is widespread across South Africa, meaning many people have been lucky enough not only to see this colorful bird but also to hear its song.



10. Hadeda Ibis


This species may not have the nicest song - some may argue it is by far the worst! You plan to sleep in on a day off and at some ungodly hour a squawk rises from a roof nearby and nature's alarm clock wakes you up! Some say that the reason they make the noise they do when they fly is because they are scared of heights. But in the Heavy Metal Grammy Award category, this African death metal singer would be a worth recipient.




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