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It is tough being a DIKKOP by Ron & Anna Keytel

The big brave male

Apart from having to live with that name, they do have a tough life, particularly the chicks.

About 6 months ago a pair of Cape Dikkops invaded our lawn, our space was gone, when ever we walked out to the Vlei to enjoy the environment we were accosted by a pair of snarling Dikkops, come on guys (the birds), we love birds and even miserly feed you, get a life!!!

The Cape Dikkop (Burhinus capensis) hides during the daylight in the garden and is nocturnal with a loud melancholy and ghostly whistling call at especially at full moon. It eats small crustacea, molluscs and certain grass seeds.

After about 6 weeks there were 2 eggs just on the ground no nest, they were about the size of chickens eggs and a motley speckled brown colour. Very well camouflaged, in our garden.

Well now these birds were doubly aggressive.

In due course the eggs hatched and we now had 2 chicks as well, running around with their patents, after about 7 days the chicks just disappeared, we don’t know where or how, maybe they had grown up enough and had moved on.

Eggs in the nest

After about a month or 2 suddenly there we are two more eggs, boy were we going to check this lot, the incubation period is about 24 days with both parents sitting on the nest alternately.

On schedule early in the morning there was a chick walking around with its parents, the other egg had not hatched yet, so out came the binoculars, and we watched, within the hour we saw the other egg hatch and the other chick emerge, within 30 seconds it had struggled to its feet and waddled off after its parents and brother /sister, it was unbelievable.

Dalton gave us the technical name for this birth life style, it is the same as antelopes, drop out and run, otherwise something will catch you and eat you.

Again after about 7 days the chicks had just disappeared again, although Gill Groenhof had found one of the chicks in her drive way the previous day, brought it back and united it with its parents.

We still think something eat the chicks, mongoose, otter, meer cat, fish eagles or other birds of prey, never did find any carcass or feathers.

The Dikkops are still with us, go off for a day or two and then come back, hopefully will breed again in the new season.

As you all may know we have had a bit of success with raising abandoned birds, notably “Survivor” the purple gallinule (oh sorry, marsh hen) who was around for about 2 years and “Klaas” the Klaas cuckoo, who was around for about 6 months.

The release is always traumatic, will they be able to find food? Additionally in our case they did not understand enemies, humans, dogs, and cats in our house are all friendly; although our animals are trained, out in the real world any pet is a potential assassin to these hand eared birds.

What we have always talked about was release to the “World of Birds” or any of the other holiday farms with the correct facilities, which we will do next time.

article and photos by

Ron & Anna Keytel

Guarding the nest

Two chicks with mom

Me and Mom

  1. Clare10-24-14

    Hi there
    I have two dikkops nesting with two eggs, Edenvale.
    My worry is my 3 cats and 2 dashies. Two of my cats are pretty fearless, and I am thinking of fencing off the area where the dikkops have put their eggs, so my cats cannot get those chicks. They have in the past, and now this is causing me much stress.
    Any thoughts out there to the thought of this fence. It will be a largish area, enough for them to fly in and out of.

    • JP Driver-Jowitt01-02-16

      I have put bells on cats. This is not as easy as it sounds, since the “bell collar” must be elastic enough to be pulled off if it catches (say on a branch)
      I usually have had to replace the “bell collar” every two weeks

      • peter murless01-02-18

        How will the bells help to save the Thick heads chicks?

  2. Evans12-27-14

    The one seems to have been in a fight, protecting her chick who went missing. She has a. Broken wing and leg. If wing recovers and she only has one leg we will feed each day as they are permanently I’m my garden. If she dies, will the male survive on his own? What is best advice

    • JP Driver-Jowitt01-03-16

      Thank you for an excellent (and beneficial) site.
      I have found rats to be a problem for breeding wild birds. Not only are the eggs eaten, but the rats can attack adults leaving wounds sufficient to kill.
      Poisoning rats (reluctantly) can be difficult and dangerous. I have tried (unsuccessfully) to buy the bait traps which are seen in supermarket car-parks. Any thoughts?

      • hedda inderthal08-30-16

        You must pre-bait all rat/mouse traps for a while and in between catching them to make the rates comfortable and used to the food source. There is also a fantastic, humane device to electrocute them to death, called the rat-zapper. Works great, though expensive and hard to come by. Must be ordered online. Again, pre-bait for a while.

  3. Lauren11-09-15

    Oh my goodness. My parents have a pair. They later their eggs and the chicks hatched last week Wednesday and when my parents got up this morning the chicks were gone.

  4. kowie11-11-15

    Two chicks hatched in veld between parking areas at Worcester Golfclub , last week , Tuesday . Yesterday , seven days later , I couldn’t find the two chicks , but to my amazement found a new single egg in the old nest ! Planning to go there today to give them some food and look for the two babies .

  5. Dawn Cairs11-23-15

    We have 2 Dik Kop in our establishment been with us for three
    years. The chicks of the past have never made it.
    We were so excoted the last one is about 4 weeks old.
    The parents are very protective, but late last night I was awoken with terrble bird cries the little chick has gone this morning. It sounded like it was taken by a bird predator. Can any one tell me what big bird hunts at night?

  6. Hein12-23-15

    2 Spotted Kiewiets were hatched 3 days ago on my pavement in Durbanville and both parents and chicks are gone after 1 day. I read somewhere that the male can carry the chicks under its wings. I am curious to find out where they went.

  7. Michelle03-06-16

    For three years there have been a pair of these birds who come to a spot near our cottage in Western Cape to nest. Not a nest as such as she layed out in the open. We never saw chicks however this year they laid closer to our house and we have seen one chick. I am desperate that this one little chick survives. I am on a small holding and there are barn cats and various birds around Not to mention the Cape Cobras. What are the chances and any tips would be appreciated.

  8. Isabel Bowden04-04-16

    Hi I am staring at a Dikkop sitting on the paving of my office block parking lot. Has been here all day. I put down water but was advised to not feed him. The office is next to a busy highway and if this is not bad enough people drive around the parking lot like maniacs. I fear for him. Won’t let me near him though.

    • James Tregay01-17-23

      Hi Isabel

      Were you told why you should not feed them? A pair of Dikkops are living in the front garden of a house which we pass when we take our dogs for a walk. Two months ago, they had four chicks, but within two weeks all were gone. I gather from another post that Dikkops must be fed wet food, because they don’t drink and so must get their liquids from their food.

    • Melanie03-24-23

      Hi Isabel, a dikkop does not drink water. They get liquids from the food they eat.

  9. Francois Smuts05-30-16

    We found an abandoned Dikkop chicken at work, still small but can fly short distances. I don’t think it will survive on its own since I have not seen the parents on the premises, day or night. Any advise on what we can feed the chick?

  10. cval08-02-16


    There are what sounds like a few breeding pairs of dikkops/ kiewets (is there a difference?) currently nesting outside our apartment block. there is alot of garden space for them but i think they are intimidated by the pair of egyptian geese that have subsequently decided to call this space home.
    They are incredibly noises during the midnight-3am period and would like to advise the building manager of an environmentally friendly way of dealing with this problem lest they take some stupidly typical human approach.

    Does anyone know what to do/ who to call (dont say ghostbusters :P)

    Many thanks and appreciation!!

  11. Corrie Viljoen08-22-16

    We have 2 Dikkops in our garden (a very large garden with trees and shrubs/grass) around for the 3rd successive year.
    During daytime, we see them under the large trees, very quiet but alert.
    Last year one chick hatched. We have seen both parents with the chick foreaging during the night, until the chick was almost the same size as the parents. Then they disappeared for a number of months.
    They threaten our dogs and even a neighbour’s cat.
    All of a sudden, for the past 2 to 3 weeks the two are back. No sign of another one.
    We are living in Kriel, Mpumalanga.
    They look similar to the photo in the Sasol Book. Yellow legs and the base of the bill is also yellow. Long legs, long neck.
    Last night with full moon, we could hear them singing together outside quite near to our home.

  12. Jenny Smee10-28-16

    We have a pair of Dikkop birds in our garden on West Coast. Each year they lay 2 eggs, hatch 2 babies, but within a day it 2, one disappears. Eventually that one goes too. The last born is now about 3 months old, and mommy has laid another 2 eggs today. They are so interesting to watch and although can be a bit aggressive, generally they get on with their life, and we with ours. The babies have a habit of sleeping stretched out with head on the ground in front of them. I thought it was dead st first!

  13. VicRaath11-25-16

    Hi. My name is Vic and I work in Kempton Park.
    At our work we have 2 dikkop’s (male and female)
    Now there are two chicks and they have grown a lot.
    It is nice to see them run around the yard as we have a big garden. I would like to know if the two offspring are going to leave the nest and venture somewhere else.
    Hoping for a reply.

  14. Tom Schwerdtfeger11-29-16

    This article surely wins the Longest Thread On FoZR’s Page Ever Award.

  15. Nikki01-08-17

    We have found one adult in our yard today. After cleaning leaves up from our tree we found the baby that had died. Can only think its from all the rain we have had. Sadly it seems like this adult it very lost. We have not seen another bird and it seems they should be in pairs. Feeling very sad for this bird and helpless. Anything we should be doing?

  16. Rozanne01-12-17

    I found a dikkop in front of my gate ( we stay across from a big field)
    We looked for the parents and even put the bird in the field for a while, hiding to see if the parents might return but no luck.
    It looks like he just started to walk.
    He is now in a box in our kitchen and I gave it a small bit of my 6 month old baby’s cereal.
    What do we do now?
    Should I put him back in the field and leave him there or should we keep him a bit longer ?
    Kinde regards

  17. Tony Schaftenaar12-05-17

    Very interesting stories about the dikkop.We have a pair outside our diningroom window on the street side.Every year a pair come to the same spot, she lays 2 eggs and when they hatch the family sticks around for a while and then disappear. I keep a watchful eye over them.They seem to like the spot and we look forward to their return.

  18. Annelene Britz01-02-18

    We also have a pair in our garden, and their egg was laid on 1st December, and 33 days later and they still sit on the egg, and no chick yet.
    Just want to know if that is normal.

  19. Diane Barrett01-11-18

    good morning over most my life I have found myself in summer with a handful off babies to raise but never a dikkoppie until yesterday. to say I have not had a bit of sleep as they are night birds. also he will only sleep in my hand. I have him on the av parrot hand raising formula but hope to be getting him on to insects soon. here is to a lot of sleepless nights

  20. Stoffel Scheepers01-12-18

    Hi I have watched the Dikkop breed between the dunes and was amazed how good the eggs and chickens are camouflaged. The chickens can run very fast to avoid predators. Thanks for the incubation time.

  21. Stoffel Scheepers01-12-18

    Friendly request to all holiday makers visiting the coast PLEASE!!!!!!! don’t let your dogs run freely on the beach This is a great danger to our wild birds on the beach Especially the Black Oyster-catchers and the Dikkop. Thanks Please spread this request

  22. Gayle08-24-20

    If you need more info on Dikkops you can contact myself.
    I have hand reared mine from the day she hatched.
    I named her Charlie and she is now 1 and half years old.

    • Linda Reid02-18-21

      Hi Gayle, I’m curious to know – does Charlie still treat you like a friend, or has she gone out into the wild again? Wondering whether Dikkops bond to individual humans. My Dikkop parents seem to know who I am and that I’m safe but don’t trust all adults.

    • Annebel02-19-22

      Hi Gayle

      We have a dikkop chick with us. I went to the petshop and bought meelwurms and very tiny sprinkane. We’ve been feeding him this. He eats little bits at a time. Any advice on what else to give and how often to feed him?

  23. MoonDance08-24-20

    This post still lives on… I remember trying to get Ron to post his own article like it was yesterday but that was more than 10 years ago – and it’s still getting comments – champion article Ron and Anna, endurance champs of the Zeekoevlei blog, may it go on for another 10.

    Input from the vleibourhood people is always the best.

  24. Meena10-03-20

    We have 2 dikkop watching over their two eggs in incubation plz WhatsApp me if anyone had similar experiences. Very interesting birds worry everyday that they safe …0743105656

  25. belinda10-13-20

    My 4 year old went for a walk in our field this morning, and as he entered the house he had 2 eggs in his hand, not sure if its the dikkop or the black and white kiewiets eggs as we have both pairs in our garden he showed me where he had removed them but now i’m afraid that the parents will abandon the nest and the eggs will die please help

  26. Ruth11-14-20

    ‘Our’ pair of dikkop – with a nest on a grassy piece of ex-pavement in Illovo, JHB, – have just hatched their two eggs and no sign of parents or chicks now. We’ve been watching them for 3 weeks and we’re just amazed at how unfazed they were by all the traffic, runners etc. Hope they come back next season!

  27. Chaé01-12-21

    Like everyone else, I’ve got them in the yard & would love to not see chicks disappearing.(I’m thinking darn dogs, darn cats & predator birds are their biggest worry at my place).
    So, are there any ideas for future advancements for how to help them nest properly no matter in whose yard they squat?
    I noticed they’re a little rogue when laying eggs, no real structure, neither above ground. If structure was given, and let’s say perhaps a wee bit higher up(not in a tree tho), would they accept it or return to their birdy ways?
    Any solutions would be ??& much appreciated.
    (Seriously, I’m on the verge of building something if I keep witnessing missing chicks ?)
    Thanks ?.

  28. Linda02-18-21

    Hi everyone, I’ve had a pair of Dikkops in my garden since I moved in two years ago. The pecking order has been well established, the cats leave the Dikkops alone and my toddler keeps his distance – so Dikkops rule the garden!

    But I have a problem – I keep losing baby Dikkops to drowning in the pool. Does anyone have suggestions for keeping them safe? Would it work to put a ramp in that they can climb out on? I don’t know if they’d be able to swim to the ramp if they were not close?

    • Su03-18-21

      Hi Linda I have had exactly the same problem as you mentioned – it breaks my heart when we have to fish out a baby Dikkop from our pool, no matter how vigilant we all try to be! In fact we’re up to three drowned babies from the same nesting pair in our garden in Bryanston so having given it some thought I’m going to put a low chicken wire fence around the pool next time we see any eggs. Hope that works!

  29. Pauly08-24-21

    A wonderful caring bird ive seen them chase off terriors cats and people few pieces of cheese they eat from my hand should be babies soon bluemoon sdegefield

  30. Esther11-28-21

    We have a baby in our garden. Other dikkoppe attacked him and now the mother is also gone. We let the baby sleep in the house last night and mother is not coming back. Will she? Not sure what to do?

  31. casandra victor12-05-21

    I have 2 Dikkops in mt garden this is their 3rd year. Never had chicks but this year 2 hatched both were strong and about 2 weeks later 1 was gone. The other 1 must be about 3 or 4 months old now and still here Parents have laid 2 eggs again about a week ago and don’t allow little one near them. He is in the front of my property and parents in the back. He looks so lonely and cries for them my heart breaks. Does anyone know how long the little ones stay? Also my grass needs a serious cut but she has laid 2 eggs in the middle of my lawn. How do I cut around her? Also don’t want to scare her so she abandons the eggs

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