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the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Phasianidae (partridges, francolins, spurfowls and quail)

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: Galliformes

Species native or naturalised (*) in southern Africa

Alectoris chukar (Chukar partridge)

This species has become naturalised on Robben Island (off Cape Town). It is native to southern Europe through to central Asia and China. 

Coturnix adansonii (Blue quail) 

A summer breeding migrant to southern Africa occurring in Zimbabwe and Mozambique with isolated records also from eastern regions of South Africa. Most often occurs in moist grassy habitats within woodland, often along the border of wetlands.The male is a colourful, attractively patterned quail with black and white throat and unlike other local quails, does not have a white eyebrow stripe. It also has distinctive slate blue colouring on the breast. In flight the rufous on the upper wing coverts is distinctive. The female and juvenile can be distinguished from other quails by the barring on breast and flanks.

Coturnix coturnix (Common quail) 

The commonist quail in southern Africa occurring in grassy habitats, including cultivated fields. The male can be distinguished from other quails by its black- to russet-coloured throat. Female has paler underparts than female Harlequin quail and lacks the barred patterning on the underparts found in female Blue quail.

Coturnix delegorguei (Harlequin quail) 

Found in grasslands, open savannas and fields; generally absent from arid and temperate regions of southern Africa. Male at rest is easily distinguished from the Blue and Common quails by the chestnut and black underparts. It also differs from the similarly dark-coloured male Blue quail in having a white eyebrow stripe. Female looks similar to the female Common quail but has darker chestnut-coloured underparts without a whitish coloured belly. It differs from the female Blue quail in not having barred patterning on the underparts.

Pternistis adspersus (Red-billed spurfowl, Red-billed francolin) 

Occurs in dry savannas of northern Namibia, SW Angola, Botswana, W Zimbabwe and W North West Province. The only francolin in southern Africa with yellow around the eye. This, as well as the combination of red bill, red legs, absence of white or red on the throat make identification of this species easy. 

Pternistis afer (Red-necked spurfowl, Red-necked francolin) 

Has a wide distribution, occurring from near Swellendam in the Western Cape, through the Eastern Cape, inland regions of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, S Limpopo, Mozambique, E Zimbabwe, and beyond southern Africa as far north as East Africa. Found where there is dense cover such as along forest and river edges. The only spurfowl in southern Africa with red bill, red around the eyes, red throat and red legs. The black streaking on the flanks against a silvery/grey/white background is also distinctive.

Pternistis swainsonii (Swainson's spurfowl, Swainson's francolin) 

Occurs in grasslands or open savannas and adapts easily to cultivated, disturbed areas. Distinguished from other spurfowl by the combination of red face, red throat, black upper bill and black legs.

Pternistis capensis (Cape spurfowl, Cape francolin) 

An endemic species concentrated mainly in the Western Cape but extends into Northern Cape, southern Namibia and Eastern Cape. Found mainly in fynbos and karoo but also in gardens and agricultural settings. The only similar-looking spurfowl without red or yellow face or red throat is the Natal spurfowl but their ranges do not overlap and Cape spurfowl can also be distinguished by having streaked, not scaly, underparts.

Pternistis natalensis (Natal spurfowl, Natal francolin) 

Occurs in E South Africa, E Botswana, Zimbabwe, N Mozambique and outside of southern Africa it is found in S Zambia. Found in savanna, woodland and coastal forest. Within its range it is the only spurfowl without bare skin around the eyes and on the throat. The Cape spurfowl also lacks these features but the ranges don't overlap and in addition it has a scaly-patterned lower breast without the streaks found in Cape spurfowl.

Pternistis hartlaubi (Hartlaub's spurfowl, Hartlaub's francolin) 

Patchily distributed through northern Namibia and SW Angola. Found where there are rocky outcrops,  or scattered boulders. Compared to other francolins, the Hartlaub's spurfowl has a longer, more down-curved bill. In addition, the male can be distinguished by its white eye stripe and dark cap and the female by the uniform reddish-brown underparts.

Dendroperdix sephaena (Crested francolin)

Found in woodland and wooded savanna in a distribution extending from Ethiopia down to the northern regions of southern Africa. Can be distinguished from other francolins by the broad white eye-stripe contrasting with the dark head, combined with the white throat. Its habit of cocking its tail (see image right) is also a useful distinguishing feature.

Peliperdix coqui (Coqui francolin)

Widespread in savanna and woodland regions of Africa. The male is easily distinguished from other francolins by the plane reddish-brown head contrasting with the barred underparts. The female can be distinguished from other francolins (Shelley's francolin in particular) by the white eye stripe and lack of chestnut stripes on breast and flanks.

Scleroptila africanus (Grey-winged francolin) 

Found in montane grasslands in the Drakensberg region (mainly above 1800 m elevation) and also occurs in karoo scrub, renosterbos and strandveld in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces.Can be distinguished from other Scleroptila francolins by having a grey freckled rather than white or buff throat. In flight, there is proportionally more grey than red on the wings compared to the other species. 

Scleroptila levaillantii (Red-winged francolin) 

There are about seven separate populations distributed through Africa with the population in southern Africa ranging from Swellendam in the Western Cape, up the east coast, round Lesotho and into the highveld.  In the Western Cape it is found in high altitude mountain fynbos and elsewhere it is found mainly in grasslands dominated by the grass Themeda triandra. 

Scleroptila levaillantoides (Orange River francolin) 

Found in grasslands and arid savannas. Near endemic to southern Africa with a distribution extending from southern Angola, through northern Namibia and Botswana and into the Free State and adjacent regions. Highly variable in plumage pattern and most easily confused with the Red-winged francolin from which it can be distinguished by having a thin, not broad, breast band.

Scleroptila shelleyi (Shelley's francolin) 

Distributed through NE regions of southern Africa, extending north into East Africa. Found in savanna and woodland, particularly where there is rocky ground. Distinguished by the black-and-white patterning on the lower breast and belly, which contrasts with the chestnut and buff patterned upper breast.

* Pavo cristatus (Common peacock)

Indigenous to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Introduced to South Africa in 1968 and there are now naturalised populations on Robben Island, Cape Peninsula, Port Elizabeth and East London.  


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

  • Sinclair, I, Hockey, P. and Tarboton, W. 2002. Sasol Birds of Southern Africa. 3rd edition. Struik, Cape Town.

Text by Hamish Robertson