Chicken-sized, brownish francolins and spurfowls are quite common in Namibia. Vaguely similar in size and build, closer examination quickly divides them up into several different species. The Swainson’s spurfowl distinguishes itself from its relatives by being brown overall, streaked with black, its bill dark above, red below; its face and throat red; its legs black. Sexes are alike in plumage, although the males are bigger than the females.
Swainson’s is a very common near-endemic resident of Southern Africa, and one that has managed to expand its range through its tolerance of humans and by adapting to areas under cultivation; it is now to be found in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola and Malawi. In Namibia it is found mainly in the northern half of the country, and prefers the highlands. Usually found in pairs or small groups, they are bold and quite conspicuous. The male calls very loudly, especially at dawn and at dusk; a harsh crowing, krrraa krrraa krrraa, repeated 6-7 times and reducing in volume towards end of the series. He often calls while perched conspicuously on a fence post, tree stump or other elevated spot.
They are found in grass and thickets, on cultivated lands, in riverine bush, and around vleis and dams, in pairs or in small coveys of up to 8 birds. Generally the Swainson’s feed in open fields on seeds, berries, shoots, roots, bulbs, insects, snails and slugs and will seek cover in dense vegetation when disturbed. They usually drink in both the morning and the evening. In spite of spending most of their time on the ground, they fly strongly and are quite agile in flight.
Swainson’s spurfowl are monogamous and territorial. The females lay a clutch of 4 to 12 eggs in a hollow in the ground in the grassveld or bushveld that is lined with dry grass and leaves. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of about 24 days.
The scientific name for the Swainson’s spurfowl is Pternistis swainsonii; pternistis from the Greek meaning “one who trips from the heel”, perhaps referring to the spurs of the male; and swainsonii after William Swainson (1789-1855), the British naturalist, artist, and author.