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Cape Thick-knee

Burhinus capensis

Life on the Ground

These African birds are predominantly terrestrial. They have strong legs and weak flight capabilities, predisposing them to a life on the ground.

About the Species

Cape thick-knees scrape shallow impressions in the ground as their nesting sites.

This nesting behavior, along with the Cape thick-knee's peculiar anti-predation tactics, is similar to that of the North American killdeer. The mottled brown and tan feathers of these birds may provide effective camouflage in their native grassland habitats, but that doesn't stop predators from sniffing out their shallow ground nests. In order to protect their eggs and chicks, thick-knees will flop on the ground and flap a wing aggressively, in an attempt to distract the predator and draw it away from the nest. Once it has succeeded in rerouting the predator's attention and thwarting a potential attack, the thick-knee will dash into the tall grasses of the savanna, leaving the confused animal in its tracks. Cape thick-knees are nocturnal predators, and they spend their time solitarily or in pairs. Noteworthy features of these birds include their large yellow eyes and long, knobby, yellow legs.

Words From the Experts


Looking at these birds you can easily see where the name comes from: those thick, knobby knees! These birds are capable of flying, though generally they prefer to stay on the ground.



Did You Know?

The Cape thick-knee's "thick knees" are actually its knobby ankles!


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Eastern, Central and Southern Africa

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Savannas and grasslands; typically avoid water

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Height: 46–50 cm | 780–785 kg

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Insects, crustaceans, amphibians, seeds, lizards, small mammals

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Natural Defenses

"Injury display" and cryptic coloring

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Both parents will take turns incubating eggs

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Least Concern

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Life Expectancy

8 years (avg.)

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