A Very Vocal Bird – Meet The Red-billed Francolin

12 Feb 2024

You hardly see them but during your first night in the African bush, but you will definitely hear them: first a repeated, slow  tuck-tuck-tuck sound, then a quick acceleration in tempo and volume until a dramatic coloratura crescendo at high pitch -  like an opera diva on a theatre stage - pierces you ears.

Meet one of the most vocal birds in southern Africa, the Red-billed francolin. A medium-sized bird with a permanent frown and sceptic expression on its face, the francolin, which belongs to the pheasant family and is also called spurfowl. It has strong spurs on its legs, which are orange-yellow like their beak.

They are pretty with their soft, greyish-brown feathers and the distinct yellow ring around their eyes. Francolins are also pretty nervous and constantly on high alert.

The Red-billed francolin
Photo: Contributed


They often forget that they can fly and rather run away from humans and other potential enemies. Flying-off is the last resort.

Their rather noisy communication sounds as if they are being attacked by a caracal or jackal and are on the brink of death.

“I had a group of tourists on their first trip to Africa and their first night in the bush. Around two o clock in the morning, one of them woke me up, and nervously whispered a vicious animal close by was killing a poor little other animal,” a tour guide recalled. “I asked what sound it made. At that moment the ear-piercing cry of a francolin erupted, making the tourist even more nervous. I couldn't help laughing and told the tourist to go back to sleep, because it was just a bird,” said.

Red-billed francolins love to communicate with each other, and several individuals might just respond to the first cry and respond, which sounds as if all hell has broken loose.

It seems they also have very vivid dreams. They love to sleep in trees at night and they probably fall off a branch when they dream and scream while they wake up during free fall.

The Red-billed francolin.
Photos: Contributed


These birds have in recent years also realised that it is rather safe to sleep in garden trees in urban areas, which border  bushland.

One actually gets used to their nightly cries and learns to sleep undisturbed. 

Brigitte Weidlich

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