Cape Town is for the Birds

Birds are on a whole different level on the continent of Africa. The diversity of species, size and color is simply out of this world. If you happen to be a “birder,” you will not be disappointed here. South Africa is no exception – the variety of birds is amazing. When you come, you have to visit the penguins and ostriches!

My favorite, favorite, FAVORITE visit was to Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town to see the African Penguins. Seriously you guys, this was far more of a close encounter than I expected and far more enjoyable than I had hoped.

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The African Penguins can be found along the southern tip of South Africa and the western coastline of Namibia. In fact, they are the ONLY found in African and they are the ONLY penguin that breeds in Africa. So the moral of the story: If you want to see African Penguins in their natural habitat, pack your bags for an adventure!

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They are relatively small animals, growing only to about two feet or so and as large as seven pounds. As with most penguins, they are black and white but have black feet and  a small pink patch around their eyes. Research says the pink patch assists them in the changing temperatures. The warmer the temperature, the more blood is sent to the pink patch causing it to become a deeper shade. How amazing is that?!?

Penguins are monogamous birds, meaning they only have one partner throughout their life. They breed during the winter month, then lay eggs and nest from March to May. They often dig a hole for the eggs, often in foliage to keep the eggs hidden from predators. Both mom and dad take turns sitting on the egg for incubation.

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After we found a place to park, we walked down the street toward Boulder Beach. The road tapers down to a walk path to reach Boulder Beach Penguin Reserve. For a fee of about five US dollars, we took the wood slatted path to the lookout points which overlook a large grouping of penguins on the beach. BUT, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We went back out the entrance and continue down the foot path where another entrance awaiting our visit. My already purchased entrance let me actually join the penguins on Boulder Beach. This is where the real fun happened.

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The beautiful beach is guarded by large boulders, which provides a protection and calms waves rolling in to shore. The penguins meander around on the sand and rocks to sunbathe. Their eggs can be found hidden in rock crevices and pre-dug holes in the foliage. They swim among the tourists to cool off and hunt for food. Around every turn, a penguin was doing what penguins do, even amongst the people.

The penguins are rather calm and do not bother the tourists. We were able to come within just a couple of feet of them. Of course if given reason, they will bite but for the most part, they tend to their business and did not get their feathers ruffled.

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I was really quite impressed with the other tourists. They treated the penguins with respect and for the most part, kept their distance. I did not see anyone mistreat or try to physically handle the penguins. I did not see anyone try to feed them or touch one of the eggs.

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The only thing I would have done differently is plan on a full day and take a swim suit. I did not do enough research ahead of time. This is the only place in the world where swimming with wild penguins is available. If given the opportunity, I will go back to Simon’s Town again in a heartbeat!

What is it with me visiting birds that cannot fly?!?  I also visited the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch with hopes of riding an ostrich. Okay well, I was not able to ride one but I did get to sit on him.

Ostriches are plentiful in South Africa. They are not endangered or protected. Contrary to the animal reserves and sanctuaries, this is a farm. Just like cattle or sheep, ostriches are raised to be sold for the meat, feathers and leather.

I started out on an informational tour learning all sorts of fascinating facts about the ostrich. I will not get in-depth with the information but, did you know:

  • The ostrich has been compared to a camel with the long neck and large eyes. They also tend to live in warmer climates and can survive for long periods of time with little water.
  • Adult ostriches can weigh anywhere from 150-300+ lbs.
  • Male ostriches are mostly black with some white feathers while the females are greyish-brown in color.
  • The male may have a harem but will choose one female as the alpha female. Although, he may reproduce with any of his ladies.
  • Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs.
  • The eggshell is so thick that the baby cannot break its way out. An adult ostrich has to use its thick, breastplate to crack the egg open for the offspring.
  • The brain of an ostrich is smaller than a golf ball while its eyeball is larger than a golf ball.
  • They have two toes on each foot to help maintain balance. They also have one claw to provide traction and defense against predators.
  • They can run to speeds over forty miles per hour.
  • Their necks are so flexible that they can eat off their own backs.
  • Their diet mostly consists of seeds, leaves and roots but will eat insect, small lizards  and rodents.
  • Ostriches also swallow rocks and pebbles to help their digestive system grind up the food. The rocks simply pass through their system and exit as waste.
  • In Africa, ostrich riding does happen with use of a saddle, bridle and reins.

Of course this is just a brief list of facts I found interesting about the ostrich and they are far more complicated. Truth be told, I had never really been that interested in them. The opportunity to sit on one was far more of a draw but once I was there learning about them, they became far more fascinating.

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After learning fun facts, I was able to meet the ostriches face to face. I stood on top of ostrich eggs to test the strength. I had an opportunity to feed an ostrich, who makes a swift pecking maneuver to eat.

I also met and hugged, “Tom Thumb,” who is the smallest ostrich in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Tom was a very friendly bird who did not mind the attention. Due to molting, he was wearing a special made feather “vest” so he did not look like an oversized chicken. I thought it was hilarious!

At the end of the tour I was able to sit on the back of a male ostrich. The workers first had to wrangle him to a platform stall where they gently buckled him for safety. I climbed the few stairs to the top of the platform and was able to climb on his back.

Now, this was an experience in and of itself because the ostrich was a bit cranky. Of course our guide said, “I don’t know what is going on with him today, he’s usually never like this.” In order to escort him to the stall, they have to put a small bag over his head with a hole cut for his beak. It’s kind of like putting blinders over the eyes of a horse. It took the guide a few extra minutes with the hissing bird for him to calm down enough to put the bag over his head and carefully nudge him to the stall. The guide took the time to rub the birds long neck to calm him before taking the bag off. But, once the bag was pulled, the hissing started again. Again, one of the guides carefully approached and rubbed his neck. In a few short minutes, the ostrich was calm. The guide turned to me and said, “Are you ready?” After that show, I nervously laughed. I took a deep breath, climbed the stairs to the platform and sat on his back.

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His back was wider than I anticipate; Similar to sitting on a horse’s back. His feathers were soft. I was able to pet the soft fuzz on his neck as he stayed mostly calm. I only sat on is back for about two minutes, just enough time to snap a couple of photos. Then he was released to return to his wives.

Cape Town Ostrich Farm also offers a gift shop, microbrewery and on-site restaurant where visitors can taste ostrich meat. This was an interesting experience all around with interactive opportunities. Take some time to google around about ostriches, they are actually quite fascinating birds.

More information on Cape Town Ostrich Farm: https://www.ostrichranch.co.za/

 

 

 

 

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