There is a bird species found in the bushveld with the most curious way to advertise to competitors and impress females. For those who have never witnessed the startling display by the Red-Crested Korhaan – hang onto your seats as you are in for a surprise!

The Red-Crested Korhaan is a ground-dwelling bird commonly found in the Southern African bushveld. Known as the Zuidafrikaanse kuiftrap in Dutch; the Outarde houppette in French; the Rotschopftrappe in German and Abetarda-de-poupa in Portuguese, this korhaan is about 50 cm long and weighs up to 900 g. Their diet includes insects, seeds, berries, and tree-gum. They are preyed upon by eagles, leopards, and any other opportunistic hunters.

As part of the territorial and courtship display of the males during the spring-summer breeding season, this bird has evolved a unique ritual which has earned him names such as the suicide bird or parachute bird. The males use a Lek-system – usually regarded as small clustered court areas where males gather in “arenas” to display and compete for females during the breeding season. Males will actively defend these areas for the sole purpose of displaying – not for the resources they hold. The female will then choose the “best” male and then together they will set up a breeding territory.

The male starts his incredible display by vocalizing on the ground with an ascending call, then quite unexpectedly, runs forward and with a jump and a frantic flutter of wings launches himself – like a rocket – vertically into the air flying up to anywhere from about 10-30 metres – and then just stops flying! Unbelievably, instead of falling forward and gliding down as some birds will do after vertical display flights, the korhaan just rolls over – with yellow legs outstretched, wings tucked in, and the contrasting black and white belly feathers standing out for maximum effect, then he drops back to the ground as if he had been shot – all the while executing a perfect backward somersault. Just before hitting the ground he opens his wings and glides in to land on a prominent mound area. Rather impressive.

As if this aerial display is not enough, this bird has another card up his – um – wing. Having attracted the females through his aerial acrobatics, the male then approaches the females while bobbing up and down on stiff legs with a hunched appearance. He displays his white shoulder patches and raises his red crest (from which the bird gets its common name) into a halo like crown. He makes a sharp clacking noise with his beak – the result is a truly elaborate display that reaches a crescendo as the females move towards him. Some males are content to just strut their stuff, but the Red-Crested Korhaan takes his display to a whole new level!

Written by: P.J. Grobler

Kapama Southern Camp