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Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop) 

Waterdikkop [Afrikaans]; Ingqangqolo (generic term for thick-knee) [Xhosa]; Eswaita (term used for both species of dikkop) [Kwangali]; Umunkonkoni (generic term for thick-knee) [Swazi]; Mtshikuyana (generic term for dikkop) [Tsonga]; Watergriel [Dutch]; Oedicnème vermiculé [French]; Wassertriel [German]; Alcaravão-d'água [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes

Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop)  Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop) 

Water thick-knee, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Water thick-knee, Milnerton Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop)  Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop) 

Water thick-knee with millipede. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Water thick-knee, South Africa. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk ©, see also scienceanimations.com]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in the lowlands of sub-Saharan Africa, from Liberia to Ethiopia discontinuously south to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is locally common in Zimbabwe, patches of Mozambique, eastern and southern South Africa, northern and eastern Botswana and northern Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip). It generally prefers freshwater wetlands, especially dams, lakes and large rivers but also mangroves, estuaries and open banks.

Distribution of Water thick-knee in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

It is nomadic, moving in response to changing water levels.


It mainly eats insects, other invertebrates, frogs and tadpoles, doing most of its foraging in a plover-like manner, repeatedly running forward a bit before pausing and jabbing at prey. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Animals
    • Invertebrates
    • Vertebrates
      • frogs and tadpoles
      • Aethomys namaquensis (Namaqua rock mouse)
  • other
    • Solen cylindraceus (Pencil bait discarded by anglers)
    • grass seeds


  • Monogamous, solitary nester, using a simple scrape in the ground, which is either unlined or lined with vegetation, stone chips and dry mud. It is typically placed in a fairly open position close to water, often adjacent to a sand dune, piece of driftwood or animal dung.
Burhinus vermiculatus (Water thick-knee, Water dikkop)   

Water dikkop nest with eggs, Bonamanzi, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from August-January, peaking from September-December.
  • It lays 1-3 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 22-25 days.
  • The development and care of the chicks has not been properly studied, other then that the chicks fledge at approximately 60-63 days old.


Not threatened, in fact it has probably benefited from the introduction of man-made water bodies.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.