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Pternistis natalensis (Natal spurfowl, Natal francolin) 

[= Francolinus natalensis

Natalse fisant [Afrikaans]; isiKhwehle (also applied to Crested francolin) [Zulu]; Renge [Shona]; Ingagolu [Swazi]; Nghwari ma ntshengwhayi [Tsonga]; Kgwalę, Sogonokę [Tswana]; Natal-frankolijn [Dutch]; Francolin du Natal [French]; Natalfrankolin [German]; Francolim do Natal [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 natalensis (Natal spurfowl, Natal francolin Pternistis natalensis (Natal spurfowl, Natal francolin
Natal spurfowl female. [photo Neil Gray ©] Natal spurfowl chicks. [photo Neil Gray ©]


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.

Plumage of male and female is similar. The male is heavier (average weight c 500 g versus c 390 g in female) and has much longer leg spurs than the female.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in eastern regions of South Africa, in eastern Botswana, all over Zimbabwe, northern Mozambique and outside of southern Africa it is found in southern Zambia. Found in savanna, woodland and coastal forest.

Distribution of Natal 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.  



Advertisement call recorded by G. Nicholls, Kruger National Park 1980, [© Transvaal Museum]

Alarm call recorded by A.C. Kemp, Lake Makawane, Zimbabwe 1982, [© Transvaal Museum]

Predators and parasites


Mainly eats plants in winter, supplemented with insects in summer, doing most of its foraging in the early morning and late afternoon. It often scratches through animal dung in search of undigested seeds. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Nest a scrape in the ground, lined with grass stems and sometimes feathers, hidden in scrubby vegetation. 
Pternistis natalensis (Natal spurfowl, Natal francolin)  

Natal francolin nest with eggs, Den Staat, Limpopo, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Breeding season (laying dates):
    • Zimbabwe: all months (peak March to May)
    • South Africa: peak December to May
  • After laying 2-7 eggs, the female incubates them for 20-25 days before they hatch.
  • Chicks can fly short distances after 10-14 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