This week’s Bird of the Week is a strange one… The White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) of Western Africa has been keeping taxonomists busy for a long time.
This odd looking avian special has, over the years, been listed with the Old World warblers, the flycatchers, the babblers, the crows and even the starlings. Currently some of the experts think its closest relative might be the rockjumpers! However it is classified, the White-necked Rockfowl is considered as Vulnerable by the IUCN as its dwindling and fragmented populations are threatened by habitat destruction.
This species is only found in West Africa from Guinea to Ghana, but is best seen in Ghana where a well-established community project allows visits to a colony near Obuasi. It prefers primary or secondary forest in hilly, rocky terrain, usually close to running water. It survives also in disturbed habitats, such as forest clearings and secondary growth, and in some cases close to human activity.
The diet of the White-necked Rockfowl is mainly forest floor invertebrates, including earthworms, spiders, beetles, termites and grasshoppers. It also sometimes eats frogs and lizards. Interestingly, it also cleverly follows columns of army ants to capture prey flushed by the insects.
They have interesting breeding displays too, forming loose circles and performing various dance-like movements. They are also quite inquisitive and occasionally approach observers once they realised they have been seen.
Amazingly, this species also helped launch Sir David Attenborough‘s career in 1954, when he was the producer on the new television program Zoo Quest. The show’s presenter, Jack Lester, was required to travel to Africa to record attempts to capture animals for display in zoos, with the focus of the series being on the White-necked Rockfowl. However, when he fell ill, Attenborough took his place, which launched him into the limelight and started his world renowned narrating career.
The White-necked Rockfowl is undoubtedly considered one of Africa’s most desirable birds by birders from all over the world, and is a symbol of ecotourism and rainforest conservation across its range.
For a chance to see this unusual avian gem, join us on a small-group personalised Nature Travel Birding tour to Ghana in early 2020. Enquire directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place.