Topic : Rare Birds
Article 6 07 December 2006
Short-tailed Pipit Anthus brachyura is one of the world’s rarest pipit species. In South Africa it is an uncommon localized breeding Red Data species listed as Vulnerable. However, because of its shy and secretive habits, it is perhaps overlooked to a great extent. Unlike many other pipit species they seldom venture out into the open, preferring to remain in their short grassy environment.
Experienced birders will tell you that you will be lucky to get fleeting glimpses of flushed birds, and probably at best you'll get distant views of them doing aerial cruises over short, recently burnt grassland.
Their preferred habitat during the breeding season is short sparse grassland, while in the winter months are also recorded on short seasonally flooded grassland. Winter burning of grassland is important for the maintenance of short ankle-high grassland in which this species breeds.
Pipits are sexually monomorphic. At both nests where I have photographed (Melmoth and Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, both in KwaZulu-Natal), the males have had distinctly buffy underparts, while the females were white with bold chest streaking.
At the Vernon Crooks nest, only the female (whiter bird) brooded the one day-old chicks and when the male arrived with food while she was away, he would wait patiently for her return at the rim of the nest. It seems that Short-tailed Pipits are sexually dimorphic - unless by some amazing co-incidence, the male in both pairs just happened to be the brown or buff 'morph' bird (see Peacock 2006. Pipits of southern Africa: p116).