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Pternistis capensis (Cape spurfowl, Cape francolin) 

[= Francolinus capensis

Kaapse fisant [Afrikaans]; Kaapse frankolijn [Dutch]; Francolin criard [French]; Kapfrankolin [German]; Francolim do Cabo [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: Galliformes > Family: Phasianidae

Pternistis capensis (Cape spurfowl, Cape francolin) 
Cape spurfowl, Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ] Cape spurfowl chicks, Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ]
Pternistis capensis (Cape spurfowl, Cape francolin) 

Cape spurfowl with chicks, Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ]


The only other large, dark francolin within the distribution of the Cape spurfowl is the Red-necked spurfowl, which can be easily distinguished by the red skin around the eyes and on the throat. The contrast between the pale cheeks and the dark cap of the Cape Francolin distinguishes it from other large dark francolins. The Grey-winged francolin and Red-winged francolin are also found within the distribution of the Cape spurfowl but are much smaller and lighter coloured with completely different feather patterning.

The male is generally larger than the female, its weight averaging 980 g versus 770 g in the female. The plumage is similar between the sexes. The male has 1-2 long leg spurs whereas in the female there is one reduced spur.

Distribution and habitat

Endemic: distribution is 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. 

Distribution of Cape spurfowl 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.  



Recorded in Kirstenbosch 1979, [ Transvaal Museum]


Predators and parasites

  • Predators of chicks
  • Blood parasites
    • Leucocytozoon macleani
    • Leucocytozoon peaolopesi
    • Haemoproteus releyi


Mainly eats invertebrates and fallen fruit in summer, while its winter diet consists mainly of plant matter. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • fallen fruit
      • pears
      • apples
      • grapes
    • bulbs
    • corms
    • seeds
    • berries
    • fallen grain
    • seeds and funicles of Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops)
  • Invertebrates


In spring and early summer the males compete for females and by chasing each other around dominance is determined. The fidelity of the pair bond might not be all the strong: I observed a male in the Cedarberg chase after a female with his head low down. He then mounted the female and afterwards strutted round the female with his feathers puffed out holding his head to one side and then to the other. After this performance, another male appeared on the scene and chased him away. One wonders whether he did not sneak in on a current "relationship" and get some of the action. Genetic studies on other bird species have shown that this is quite common. Courtship and pair-bonding in the Cape spurfowl would be worth investigating further. 


  • Nest is a scrape in ground, lined with grass and hidden among vegetation.
  • Breeding season (laying dates):
    • Eastern Cape: November (1 record)
    • Western Cape: July to January (peak in September)
    • Northern Cape: May (1 record)
  • After laying  4-8 eggs (1 egg laid every second day), the female incubates them for 22-25 days until they hatch. Clutches of more than 8 eggs (14 have been recorded) are thought to be the result of two females laying in the nest.
  • Chicks can fly for short distances after 12 days.


  • 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