Living in Mkwiro village, one is constantly surrounded by animals. Interactions are more commonly limited to obnoxious goats and scruffy cats, but every once in a while you have a truly exciting wildlife encounter. Last week while doing dolphin photo ID, marine officer Kirsty and myself were privy to loud and boisterous display from two male African Paradise Flycatchers settling a territorial dispute just outside the office window. The rustling of tree branches and harsh, noisy reproach of one bird to another initially drew our attention, but it was the incredible plumage of the African Paradise Flycatchers that kept me watching.
Males have grey underparts, chestnut-hued backs, and blackish blue heads with bright blue bills and eye-rings; although the white phase male is not uncommon in East Africa. The most stunning physical characteristic, however, is the long tail with streamers. Typically chestnut colored like the back and growing up to 18 cm in length, the streamers essentially double the body length of breeding males. Paradise Flycatchers are widespread throughout the African continent, ranging from Sudan in the north to the Cape in the south. Woodland, bush, forest, and gardens provide ideal habitats for these birds as they prefer to build nests out of moss, tiny twigs, bark, fibres, rootlets of grass, hair, and lichens in the forks of bushes and trees.Insects caught on the wing comprise the bulk of the flycatcher’s diet which may occasionally be supplemented with spiders and berries.
African Paradise Flycatchers are monogamous for the duration of a single breeding season. Males are highly territorial, competing for the highest quality resources and engaging in gaudy aerial displays to attract females by showing off their long tail feathers. The conflict witnessed by Kirsty and I was likely a dispute over a prized nesting ground, with one male attempting to encroach on another’s established territory. Hopefully with the ample supply of natural resources on Mkwiro Island there will be many more African Paradise Flycatcher battles in store for future GVI participants to enjoy.