Over the last few years we have been observing a rather interesting phenomena where groups of Meyer’s parrots gather at a mud pool in the national park opposite the lodge. This rather unique spectacle is something that is a bit of a mystery – even to the guys at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. We have witnessed groupings of over one hundred birds gather at sunrise and come down and partake in eating the mud (geophagy). At first when we witnessed it we thought it was the vegetation in the mud pool, but later on once the pool had completely dried out and the vegetation was gone we realised that it was the actual mud that was being consumed.
Anyway once we realised that this was quite a special event we quickly threw together a rough and ready temporary hide. We also got in touch with the guys in the University of Capetown. The phenomena is widely known about with parrots doing a similar thing in the Amazon. In this case it is because the soil contains sodium (i.e. salt).
Another theory advanced is that the clay soil allows the birds to ingest fruits containing alkaloids that would otherwise be toxic to the parrots. To be really honest we quite like the element of mystery about the whole thing. And the fact that serious bird researchers are even not 100% sure about the reasons. We are just delighted that a rather unusual spectacle takes place every morning without fail when we have guests to share it with!
Once the sun has risen and the parrots have fed then they all disperse (in the direction of all points of the compass). Even here at the lodge we see them flying over and know exactly what they have been doing 30 seconds previously.
For keen birders and casual enthusiasts alike it is quite a sight. I suppose the next step would be to send soil samples down to the guys in Cape Town and see if that solves the riddle. But in other ways we are not that keen to solve the riddle. Its quite nice that there are still some mysteries out there in Kafue National Park.