I seriously doubt there is another bird that is more magnetic to a camera lens than an Oxpecker. They are for sure one of the more captivating birds to photograph and it is fascinating to watch them as they maneuver and hang in absolutely incredible positions in order to access and clean a particularly gungy part of an animal’s ear or nose. It’s gross to watch but at the same time too irresistable an event not to photograph.
Oxpeckers are tolerated for the essential service they provide, but judging by the ear flicking and head shaking that accompanies their grooming they are obviously also very annoying to their hosts and only tolerated to a point before being flicked off.
Photographing these birds is not as easy as it seems, at least for me. I don’t know what it is but I find it particularly hard to get good crisp shots and my ratio of good to bad with these birds is particularly high. It is also not very easy to get a shot that tells the story about what they are doing. Good bird photography dictates that you have to capture the eyes and beak, but with these guys, most of the time their heads are either turned down or buried deep in an ear. So it is a real challenge to capture them in a position where the can be clearly seen engaged in their daily scavenge for food.
This trip to Kruger, much like last trip resulted in most of the Oxpeckers photographed being on Impala. Although I tried to get some on Giraffe they were either too far away or too high up in bad light to be any good. However, we did manage some good close range shots on Buffalo.
Whatever it is, of all the shots taken of these alluring birds the photos of them on Impala seem to always come out best. Impala are so prevalent through out Africa that after five minutes most people just ignore them. However, they are attractive animals and worth stopping to check if they have Oxpeckers in attendance as it’s absolutely fascinating to watch their scissor-like grooming of the fur of these animals. They hang on using hooked talons that firmly grip the animals skin. Look closely and you find they have a very fine, almost silky plumage, which given their feeding habit must in itself be home to mites and parasites. Their beaks and eyes are their most striking feature and contrast superbly against their overall dusky colouring.
During our time up in Pafuri we came to learn that this area of Kruger is also home to the less prevalent Yellow-Billed Oxpecker, but we failed to spot or photograph any. Never mind…next time!