Birdlife South Africa to compile list of birds in isiZulu

Posted on 7 March 2023 By David Henning

The bird conservation group, Birdlife South Africa, is working towards compiling a list of bird names in isiZulu, stating the importance of raising awareness about birds and doing so in a language that people understand.

Birdlife SA guide and ace twitcher Sakhamudzi Mhlongo points out the nest of a resident crowned eagle in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. Picture: Getaway Gallery

‘One of BirdLife South Africa’s goals is to raise awareness about our diversity of birds in South Africa, and also to grow the support for their conservation,’ Andrew de Bolcq, avitourism project manager at Birdlife SA, said. ‘There is a very clear language barrier. Until this project completed the list for isiZulu, there were only complete lists of South Africa’s birds in English and Afrikaans, which reinforced an unfair stereotype that birds were a ‘white people thing’.’

The process of compiling the list of birds in Zulu is lengthy, having to go through academic literature and documents not published through conventional channels alongside consulting language experts, native speakers, and local communities.

This extensive process marks a critical milestone in a country with one of the highest bird species and an incredibly diverse culture. For the first time, the workshops saw the development of isiZulu bird names for some birds.

In deciding on the name for the bird, the group first considers important features to help distinguish it, be it the bird’s colour, behaviour, or shape. ‘This is then formed into a sensible name within the linguistic structures, sometimes joining it to a stem name,’ De Bolcq says.

‘An English example is cinnamon-breasted bunting, with the colour of the breast being the descriptor and bunting the group — and other times being a standalone name, for example, Cape gannet or isicibamanzi, which means ‘the spear into the water.

‘This name is always decided on by consensus of the language and cultural representatives present. Then, once the list is finalised, we put it out for public comment for a year before adopting it, which is where we are in the process for isiZulu.’

He hopes that this initiative will enable birders to have a deeper and more meaningful connection to nature, being able to convey it in their mother tongue.

Birdlife SA intends to expand the list to other South African languages, with hopes to add a list in a new language each year.

ALSO READ: Extreme birding in Kruger National Park

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