As a pre-schooler I heard them going “Haaaa” and thought a bunch of noisy children was laughing scornfully somewhere in the next street. I didn’t realize I was hearing birds, which I assumed all used a variety of the sweet “tweet tweet” repertoire.
Later I found out that the Hadeda Ibis is a large bird common to all areas of South Africa. There are thousands of them throughout the country and they seem even more at home in the cities and suburbs than in the countryside. The urban hadedas get easier pickings.
When I first heard the term “la-di-dah” I misheard it as “ha-de-da” and wondered what riches and splendour had to do with these raucous and noisy birds. The word is pronounced like “hardy” followed by “dar” as in dark, and is an imitation of their call.
They weigh about 1.25 kg and average about 70 cm in height, with long, slightly curved beaks about 14 cm long which surely look extremely menacing to any worms and other small creatures when the hadedas descend on the lawn to start breakfast. Every morning they descend from the treetops and can be seen drilling into lawns with their fearsome scythes.
They are very unwieldy fliers and build their untidy nests from sticks, which can be found at the top of tall trees and buildings. These birds are certainly not the crème de a crème of the avian world. Neither are they any threat to nightingales with voices which are like a mix of the Nazguls calling to one another in Mordor, and a horse having a fit. They do not produce the type of song you want to wake up to, unless it’s an emergency. Some people have referred to them as “flying vuvuzelas”, so we’ll leave the dawn chorus to more deserving species.
As can be seen above, they are actually rather attractive birds when the sun shines on their drab brown feathers, but far from the belles of the bird ball. They certainly sport a rather prehistoric look and indeed their call may not be unlike that of the long-lost Pterodactyl!
A more aristocratic relative of theirs is the Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) which favours wetland areas and tends to be quieter than their Hadeda cousin.
Even the Hadeda Ibis’ botanical name hints at its noisiness: Bostrychia hagedash, which if repeated enough times could render you as hoarse as a Hadeda.
Hadedas remain faithful to their partner and only seek another if their original mate dies. They lay 1-5 green eggs.
Despite their unashamedly carnivorous diet and loud nature, Hadedas are rather likeable birds and as part of the South African scene as boerewors, minibus taxis and proteas.
The Hadeda Ibis in other languages:
Xhosa … Ing’ang’ane
Zulu … iNkankane
German … Hagedasch-Ibis
Portuguese … Singanga
French … Ibis hagedash
Dutch … Hadada-Ibis
Roberts – Birds of Southern Africa
Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town website , http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za