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The Gymnogene - Polyboroides typhus
Gymnogene occur in most of sub-Saharan Africa, but are absent from the very dry parts of Namibia and the Kalahari.
The Gymnogene is a medium to large raptor, with a length of 63cm and weighing up to 950g. Male and female Gymnogene look alike. Facial skin is yellow in adult birds, but juvenile Gymnogene have red facial skin and cere. During mating season, the Gymnogene's facial skin also becomes brighter and sometimes red. The body is blue-grey; the flight feathers are grey with black tips. Juvenile Gymnogene are mottled brown and white. The Gymnogene has a long tail with a distinct white band. Gymnogene have long yellow legs which are covered with scales. The Gymnogene has a slow graceful flight with deep wing beats, usually seen flying low over the forest canopy in search of prey.
Feeding Habits of the Gymnogene
Gymnogene are extremely adaptable and opportunistic. They are well known amongst other birds as nest raiders, and when a Gymnogene is in the vicinity, the other birds can be heard frantically warning each other. The Gymnogene will visit colonies of weavers, queleas, herons and swallows. Gymnogene spend much of their day flying from tree to tree looking into holes and nests. One often sees Gymnogene following foraging elephants to collect insect larvae exposed by elephants breaking old wood. Their tarsal joints are very supple and have a wide range of movement, allowing the Gymnogene to get its talons into small, usually inaccessible areas. Gymnogene are often seen inspecting Hamerkop nests, not only for young Hamerkop, but also for other birds which use abandoned Hamerkop nests.
Other food items eaten by Gymnogene include squirrels, fish, bats, frogs, insect larvae and carrion. In West Africa, Gymnogene have been recorded eating the fruit of the oil palm Elaeis guineensis.
Gymnogene are monogamous solitary nesters and are very territorial. A study done in South Africa showed that Gymnogene pairs occupy territories of approximately 25 square kilometers. Courtship is usually accompanied by flight displays where the male Gymnogene will dive and soar, showing off his flying skills.
Both male and female birds help in nest construction, and it is interesting that 2 nests are often constructed, presumably as a second option if conditions turn out to be unsuitable at the first site. 1 - 3 eggs are laid. Gymnogene eggs are creamy white, often with red-brown blotches. Male and female Gymnogene incubate the eggs, but in the early stages, the female spends more time at the nest. When the male Gymnogene feels it is his turn to tend the eggs, he bring the female a green twig and she goes off to forage. Eggs hatch after 24 days, and by 30 days they are fully feathered. The juvenile Gymnogene leaves the nest at between 45 and 55 days, but stays in the vicinity for a few weeks.
The Gymnogene is not threatened and populations are doing well in all of its range.