Class: Aves

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Burhinidae

Species: Burhinus capensis 

Etymology: Burhinus = derived from Latin meaning large or great nose. capensis = of/from the Cape region. 

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern


For many decades we knew of this bird as the “Dikkop”, but today they are referred to as Thick-knees, in reference to their swollen tibia-tarsal joints. This name is misleading however, as the tibia-tarsal region is the bird’s ankle and not its knee! Thick-knees are common, largely nocturnal birds found across most of southern Africa and equally at home in fynbos, grassland and savanna. They avoid tropical forest along the eastern coastal seaboard. 

Largely nocturnal, when most activity and calling takes place, but are frequently seen standing perfectly still under cover during the day. They choose backgrounds such as dry stony ground, or fallen leaves, or dry veld grass and sand, where their mottled colouration renders them almost invisible. When threatened, or protecting a nest, Spotted Thick-knees will splay out their wings revealing a white and black-striped pattern. This sudden contrast and display seems to divert wandering animals like cattle, elephants and antelope, away from the nest. 

Thick-knees have long, stilt-like yellow legs together with yellow eyes. The bill is black but yellow at the base. The feathers on the face have white patches and the body feathers are brown interspersed with white and covered with a regular pattern of black blotches. This colour affords exceptional camouflage in some environments, especially fynbos. The loud whistling cackle is heard at night when these birds venture into the open in search of their food. When approached they take flight but usually only over a short distance before settling to ground again, where their long legs aid in rapid running motion.

The Spotted Thick-knee feeds on a wide variety of invertebrate prey, including beetles, termites, grasshoppers, crickets, worms, spiders, scorpions and solifugids. They will also take frogs and small reptiles. They actively forage for their prey on open ground. These birds have exceptionally keen eyesight, even at night. 

Females lay eggs in a shallow scrape above ground, either in the open or underneath a shrub or bush which affords the nest greater protection. 1-3 eggs are laid which take 24 to 30 days to hatch. Chicks are fed by both adults.  


Spotted Thick-knee 1: Thick-knees are common, largely nocturnal birds. 

Spotted Thick-knee 2: Their mottled colouration renders them almost invisible.

Spotted Thick-knee 3: A Spotted Thick-knee at Cape Point Nature Reserve. 

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