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University of Limpopo (2012)

Aspects of the biology of the chestnut-backed sparrow-lark (Eremopterix leucotis) in the Limpopo Province, South Africa

Dikgale, Mahlodi Lucket

Titre : Aspects of the biology of the chestnut-backed sparrow-lark (Eremopterix leucotis) in the Limpopo Province, South Africa

Auteur : Dikgale, Mahlodi Lucket

Université de soutenance : University of Limpopo

Grade : M.Sc. (Zoology) 2012

Résumé partiel
Sparrow-larks form a relatively small genus in the family Alaudidae and comprise only seven species distributed widely throughout Africa and parts of the Eurasian landmass. Sparrow-larks are unique amongst larks in that they are sexually dichromatic and exhibit biparental care. The chestnut-backed sparrow-lark Eremopterix leucotis is endemic to Africa with five subspecies recognized based on differences in plumage colouration. The five subspecies are distributed throughout the arid to semi-arid savannas of Africa with two subspecies (E. l. hoeschi and E. l. smithi) occurring in southern Africa. Despite their widespread occurrence and its interest for research on the evolution of characteristics in the family (e.g. being sexually dichromatic and exhibiting biparental care), very little is known of the biology and ecology of the Eremopterix larks. The chestnut-backed sparrow-lark is no exception and most of what we know of the species is based on incidental observations from a few nests. In an attempt to improve our knowledge of this interesting group of species, it was decided to study various aspects of the breeding biology and ecology, moult, vocalizations and geographical variation in the chestnutbacked sparrow-lark. The breeding biology of the chestnut-backed sparrow-lark was studied at Al3 farm (De Loskop) near Mogwadi in the Limpopo Province of South Africa from January 2008 to December 2010. Data collected during the study included : breeding seasonality, egg and clutch characteristics, duration of the incubation and nestling periods, nest-site characteristics, the roles and relative contribution of the sexes in the breeding cycle, nestling development, diet and nestling provisioning rate, and breeding success. Chestnut-backed sparrow-larks bred mostly during the dry season, which is from April to September in the study area. Nevertheless, the results revealed that breeding is bimodal with a main peak in breeding activity in late summer and autumn (March to April) and a second smaller peak in spring (September to October). The species showed geographical variation in clutch size with a mean of 1.88 eggs recorded in the study area as opposed to 1.00 recorded in the northern parts of its range. Egg dimensions compared well with measurements obtained from the Nest Record Card Scheme of the Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa. The mean incubation period of 10.33 days recorded in this study compares favourably with that of other Eremopterix species viii (8–10 days), a genus with some of the shortest incubation periods amongst larks. The mean nestling period of 9.2 days (range : 8–10) in the study area was significantly less than the 10–12 days reported for populations in the northern range of the species, but it compares well with those of other sparrow-larks. Nest site characteristics, which were quantified within a 1 m2 quadrant with the nest as the centre, including nest dimensions, were consistent with those reported in the literature. Chestnut-backed sparrow-larks in the study area preferred to nest in areas with a high percentage of bare ground (median = 67.5%) and very little vegetation cover (median = 25%). Most nests faced in a southerly direction compared to nests in the north of the species’ range, which face in a north-easterly or easterly direction. The species’ preference to face the nests away from the midday sun most probably serves a thermoregulatory function to avoid excessive heat during the warmest parts of the day. Most nests (78.2%) had an apron varying in size from small and insignificant to large and well-developed.

Mots clés : Sparrow-larks — Alaudidae family — Birds

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