One of the sixteen or so of Namibia’s near-endemic bird species, is the striking terrestrial babbler-like Rockrunner Achaetops pycnopygius.
It has been called the Damara Rockjumper in the past, but is actually a member of the Macrosphenidae family of Crombecs and African warblers. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Achaetops.
It occurs in southwestern Angola and north and central Namibia, preferring sloping rocky areas and outcrops with scattered thorn trees, especially along watercourses, in dry hilly and mountainous areas.
The Rockrunner really is a beautiful bird, with the chest peppered black and white, heavily streaked dark back, with tawny flanks and rump, and a rufous belly. The face is similarly richly striped and patterned.
As its name would suggest, it has the habit of hopping or flying short distances from boulder to boulder; this behaviour aids in identification. Another distinctive feature is the Rockrunner’s song, a rich, robin-like warbling song, usually given from a prominent perch: tip tip tootle tootle ti tootle tootle too.
The Rockrunner feeds mainly on invertebrates, almost exclusively on the ground. It moves with its tail frequently held cocked, and has a mouse-like running habit. It also flies in a laboured manner, with the tail held downwards, and then cocked on alighting. It is rarely found in trees, except when singing or when alarmed.
In terms of breeding, it is solitary and territorial. The nest is a large, thick, untidy structure of grass and leaves, lined with fine soft grass. It is normally well hidden close to the ground in the middle of large clumps of grass or in a low, large-leafed shrub. The clutch is usually 3 eggs, the incubation period about 15 days. The young leave the nest at a relatively early age, before they are able to fly, and hide in the grass. They are fed by both adults until they are independent.
The Rockrunner is a fairly common bird, but very localised. Although the total population of the bird is estimated at 50,000, it can be a tricky bird to find in Namibia. Regional population density is quite variable, dependent mostly on elevation and rainfall patterns.
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