Chaetopidae – Rockjumpers

Cape Rockjumper Chaetops frenatus ©Adam Riley Website

Rockjumpers are medium-sized insectivorous or omnivorous passerines in the genus Chaetops, which constitutes the entire family Chaetopidae. The two species, the Cape Rockjumper, Chaetops frenatus, and the Drakensberg Rockjumper, Chaetops aurantius, are endemic residents of southern Africa. The Rufous or Cape Rockjumper is a resident of the West Cape and south-west East Cape, and the Orange-breasted or Drakensberg Rockjumper is distributed in the Lesotho Highlands and areas surrounding them in South Africa. The two rockjumpers have been treated as separate species but differ in size and plumage. The ranges do not overlap, but come close to doing so.

They are small birds with mostly brown and red plumage. Both species have long, white-tipped black tails, black throats, broad white sub-moustachial lines, rufous or orange bellies and rumps and grey and black patterned backs and wings. The iris is red and the bills and legs are black. Their wings are very small and they do not fly very often.

They spend most of their lives running and jumping among rocks and grasses while hunting insects. A range of insects are taken, including caterpillars, moths, grasshoppers, beetles and flies. In addition to insects other prey include lizards and geckos, amphibians, scorpions, annelid worms and spiders.

They are monogamous and pairs establish territories which are defended year round. In the Cape Rockjumper the territories vary in size from 4–11 ha (10–27 acres). Both species employ helpers, usually the young of previous broods, to aid the breeding pair in raising the young. Nests are built out of grass on the ground (in contrast to rockfowl, which build mud nests in colonies).[2] The clutch size is two eggs for the Cape and two to three eggs for the Drakensberg. Both sexes incubate the clutch for 19–21 days. The chicks are fed by the parents and helpers for thirty days, but they leave the nest sooner than that.

The Chaetopidae is a new family delineated following DNA sequencing that found that the two Rockjumper species warranted a family to themselves; the two species are:

Rufous (Cape) Rock-jumper Chaetops frenatus
Orange-breasted (Drakensburg) Rock-jumper Chaetops aurantius

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 2

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