MK West

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

Johannesburg, South Africa

Friends of Melville Koppies:              Phone: +27 11 482 4797                      Email:

Melville Koppies: Fauna

Birds and birding on Melville Koppies

Crowned Plover

A Crowned Plover taken by surprise, and not pleased.
Photo: Maria Cabaço

Melville Koppies has been a venue for bird ringers for many years. For technical information on bird-ringing click here:

If you would like to visit the Koppies to watch bird ringers at work it is important to read this page in order to understand how complex bird ringing is, and that while we welcome a small number of visitors, we have to be careful not to intrude.

To see the results of bird ringing visit the following page for a gallery of some of the birds ringed in 2010:

John Bunning, the pioneer, used to sleep in the store-room at the koppies so that he could put up the mist nets at dawn.

He began a tradition which is continued today by the Wits Bird Club.

Here is a reminiscence he wrote in 2008:


By L John Bunning

I always thought we were very privileged to have the koppies right in the middle of the urban area of Melville and Emmarentia. Melville Koppies is a mini-nature reserve and has representation of most habitats - even if on a small scale. Thus there are grasslands, rocky hillsides, forest and river banks. For this reason the bird life is varied and representative of many bird families in South Africa.

During an extensive study conducted from March 1973 to the end of 1994, I and my ringing trainees recorded 164 bird species which included water associated birds flying over, to and from the Emmarentia Gardens complex. Some were residents, others winter or summer visitors or birds just flying over. Surely many changes, both in loss of species and the movement of others into the Reserve have occurred since the end of the study period.

Many of the little brown birds, for example warblers, cisticolas, pipits etc., would not have been recorded were it not for an extensive ringing programme, in which mist-nets were used to capture the birds enabling correct identification, measurement, ringing and release. Indeed on 10 December, 1985, a vagrant Blackcap from Europe was caught in the nets enabling positive identification and its addition to the South African bird list. This bird would otherwise have gone unnoticed and therefore unrecorded.

Various species could have been predicted as occurring in the differing habitats. Wailing Cisticolas, African Rock, Plain-backed and Buffy Pipits along the rocky ridges; Crimson-breasted Shrike, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Acacia Pied, Crested and Black-collared Barbets in the woodland areas - together with the migratory warblers in the summer months. Hadeda, African Sacred and Glossy Ibis together with Malachite and Pied Kingfisher, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Levaillant’s Cisticola would be associated with the stream and its banks while the grassland areas would hold the Zitting Cisticola, Neddicky and the occasional Cape Longclaw.

Other species such as sparrows, weavers, Dark-capped Bulbul Common Fiscal, Karoo Thrush, Cape Robin-chat, Laughing Dove etc. could have been encountered in any area of the reserve.

In the summer months, watching from the veranda of the old guard’s hut on the ridge overlooking the grassland area was exciting and instructional. When the nuptial individuals erupted from their termitaria, swifts, swallows and martins would fly back and forth hawking the flying insects. Standing above the birds one was able to identify them very easily.

Further along the ridge to the west is a very prominent rocky outcrop in which a pair of Spotted Eagle Owls regularly nested. It was delightful sitting opposite the nesting site at dusk watching the parent bird instructing the newly fledged juveniles to fly and to hunt."

Crowned Plover

Ringed birds are treated very kindly on the Melville Koppies.
Photo: Maria Cabaço

Today bird ringing happens on the second Saturday of the month, and the mist nets are put up very early.

Sleeping in the store room is no longer a requirement.

If you are interested you can contact Gail Schaum at the Witwatersrand Bird Club: 011 782 7267.

For novices the experience of seeing wild birds close up, and touching them, is extraordinary. The amount of hard slog involved in the task of recording and ringing birds is amazing.

To become a recognised bird-ringer you need to ring 500 birds including 50 different species, but ringing is the least of it: measurements of weight, body dimensions, feather lengths, must be recorded. This involves sensitive scales and calipers, and being bitten.

We have a list of 185 birds seen on or above the Melville Koppies, based on John Bunning's records, available here...

Mammals recorded on Melville Koppies

This list was compiled several years ago. Melville Koppies is an ecological island. When it is swept by fire small animals die, and no replacements move in. This list may be outdated.

The Westdene Spruit is a lifeline to the wild, but with increasing urban pressures this lifeline is becoming more tenuous.

African Civet Middens seen frequently in higher grassland bordering bush.
Lesser Spotted Genet Have been seen occasionally, but not resident.
Slender Mongoose Often seen in daytime in the higher grassland and near the Lecture Hut.
Yellow Mongoose Seen occasionally on the ridge above the Lecture Hut and in the LGVS regularly feed from dog's bowls in neighbouring properties. 
African Hedgehog In the past seen at night around the Lecture Hut and recently asleep under a bush in the northern grassland. They visit neighbouring gardens. Five were released into the reserve a few years ago.
Mole Rat Their molehills seen everywhere except in the rockiest parts.
Rock Elephant Shrew Occasionally caught by neighbours' cats. 
Scrub Hare Three seen a few years ago in northern grassland and cropped kikuyu grass suggests they are still present.
Jameson's Red Rock Rabbit Reported in a 1967 survey and a demolished stand of the orchid Bonatea speciosa behind the Lecture Hut on the northern ridge suggests they may still be present.
Vlei Rat Trapped on the northern grassland in a recent survey.
Multimammate Mouse Trapped on the northern grassland in a recent survey.
Striped Mouse Reported in a 1967 survey, but not seen since. After a fire through the upper grasslands in 1998 many runs typical of this mouse were seen, but not after the fire in 1999.
Namaqua Rock Mouse Reported in a 1967 survey, but the nests of grass and twigs pushed into cracks in rocks have not been seen for at least 10 years.


Image: Wikimedia

African Civet (Civetticus civetta)

As big as a small dog, it has a white patch on its nose, lengthwise black, white and grey stripes on neck and shoulders, black legs and a blotched grey and white pattern on its body. Its tail has a black tip.

It lives in thick bush where there is good cover, wild fruit and water. Nocturnal and lying up in thick cover it is rarely seen. It is most active at dawn and dusk, but it is solitary and moves silently. If disturbed it freezes then suddenly bounds away.

It feeds on insects, wild fruits, mice, small reptiles and birds and grass. Its droppings are black, 1x5 cm. and contain grey fur, animal remains and grass.


Image: Wikimedia

Smaller Spotted Genet (Genetta genetta)

About the size of and similarly marked to the domestic tabby, but paler, it can be distinguished by a black band down its back, white markings above and below its eyes and black patches either side of the nose.

It prefers bush with open spaces. It is a good climber, but usually hunts on the ground, stalking and pouncing on its prey. If disturbed it slinks away frequently looking backwards. It nests in holes in trees or on the ground.

Diet is small rodents, birds, insects, reptiles and is notorious for raiding poultry.

Slender Mongoose

Image: Wikimedia

Slender Mongoose (Gallerella sanguinea)

Small slender and dark grey it has a bushy tail with a black tip.

Found in many different habitats, in Melville Koppies it seems to prefer the tall grassland between the ridges.

Diurnal, it can be glimpsed crossing a path or slipping over rocks. Normally terrestrial it will occasionally climb trees to hunt or escape. When encountered it will quickly dart into thick cover or a hole.

It feeds on insects, lizards and mice.

Yellow Mongoose

Image: Wikimedia

Yellow Mongoose (Cynictis peniicillata)

Small, slender and yellow-grey it is distinguished by a white-tipped tail. It differs from the slender mongoose in preferring more open country such as thinly grassed rocky slopes.

When disturbed it makes for a hole.

Diet is mainly rodents supplemented by small reptiles.


A hedgehog being shy in early 2009.
Photo: Wendy Carstens

South African Hedgehog (Erinaceus frontalis)

Upper parts are covered with short spines, very variable in colour, under parts covered by hairs and vary from white to black. They all have a white band across their foreheads.

They are found in a wide variety of habitats, but are not dependent on water. Predominantly nocturnal they lie up during the day in matted grass, under bushes or in holes. They hibernate during cold months.

Mainly insectiverous they also eat small mice, lizard's eggs, frogs, slugs and vegetable matter which they find with their acute sense of smell.

Mole Rat

Image: Wikipedia

Mole Rat (Cryptomus hottentotus)

About the size of a rat but more heavily built. Pale brown with lighter underparts and possibly with a light patch on the forehead. Unlike moles they have eyes, a flat nose like a pig and pairs of strong, evergrowing, curved projecting teeth in both upper and lower jaws, which are used for digging as well as feeding. Their eyesight is poor, but they are very sensitive to vibrations.

Found in all kinds of soils from sand to stoney, but not in heavy clay.

They live in small colonies in burrows radiating from a central point 15 to 20cm underground and only come out onto the surface at night. They are aggressive if cornered and will inflict severe bites.

They are vegetarian living on roots or bulbs.

Scrub Hare

Image: Wikipedia

Scrub Hare (Lepus saxatilis)

Back and sides grizzled, grey, underneath white.

They are found in savannah woodland where there is good grass cover such as the mixed bush and grassland on the northern slopes of Melville Koppies.

They are nocturnal hiding up during the day under bushes where there is grass cover. With their colouring and with their ears folded back they are difficult to see and they only break cover at the last moment bounding away with a jinking run. Their food is grass.


Image: Wikipedia

Jameson's Red Rock Rabbit (Pronolagus randensis)

It is smaller than the scrub hare, its upper body is a grizzled rufous-brown, lighter towards the rump. The underparts are pinkish buff. .Contrasting with the body colour the cheeks, sides of the neck and lower jaw are light grey.

It is confined to rocky areas - koppies, cliffs and rock-strewn hillsides such as the Melville Koppies ridges.

Predominantly nocturnal and solitary, they lie up in crevices or in thick grass in rocky places and only run at the last moment dodging behind boulders.

They feed on grass and possibly on some herbs.

Vlei Rat

Image: Wikipedia

Vlei Rat (Otomys irratus)

Smaller than the House Rat, they have short, stocky bodies, blunt faces, long hair and short tails. They are grizzled dark grey, lighter on the sides and underparts and the tail is dark brown.

They generally live in damp places, but in mountainous areas they can be found on grass-covered hillsides away from water.

They are generally diurnal, terrestrial, solitary and probably territorial. They may use ready-made burrows, but they usually make nests in clumps of grasses. From these nests are runs to feeding areas marked by scattered parts of grass stems. Their feeding range averages about 40m.

They eat nearly all the plant species in their area, but prefer grass.

Elephant Shrew

Image: Wikipedia

Rock Elephant Shrew (Elephantulus myurus)

A very small rodent weighing no more than 60gm., upper parts buffy-grey, paler on the flanks and white underneath.

Their have much longer back legs than front and their back feet are long and slender. The large eyes are made even more conspicuous by white rings. The family characteristic is the elongated mobile snout.

They inhabit rocky koppies or piles of boulders where they can shelter in holes and cracks, and where there overhanging ledges or vegetation that will screen them from raptors.

Mostly diurnal, they sit in the shade of bushes or rocks twitching their sensitive nose and ears watching for prey. They move very quickly in long hops. They are very alert and sensitive and immediately disappear into their shelter at any unusual sound, scent or vibration.

They live on small insects, mostly ants and termites.

Multimammate Mouse

Multimammate mouse trapped and released on the Koppies
Photo: Maria Cabaço

Multimammate Mouse (Preomys natalensis)

Twice the size of the House Mouse, the colour of its upper parts varies from dark to light shades of grey tinged buff. The underparts are light grey. Unique are the up to 12 mammae of adult females.

Apart from dry areas it can live in a wide range of habitats and has adapted to close association with man.  It will nest in sheltered spots or make its own burrow. It breeds very rapidly - having litters of 6 to 12 every month throughout the year. Its high reproduction rate enables it to quickly colonise devastated areas.

It is omnivorous. In the wild: it eats mainly grass supplemented with wild fruit, seeds and insects, but close to man it will eat man's food.

Striped Mouse

Image: Wikipedia

Striped Mouse (Rhabdomus pumilio)

Buffish grey with light underparts, they are easily identified from the two light stripes with dark borders down the back.

They live where there is dense grass cover, particularly of Hyparrhenia or Themeda.

They are diurnal and they burrow.

They feed mainly on grass supplemented with other plants and some insects.

Namaqua Rock Mouse (Aethomys namaquensis)

Reddish-brown with whitish underparts and an exceptionally long tail.

They are found in various habitats, but prefer rocky koppies or boulder-strewn hillsides.

They are nocturnal and hide up during the day in rock crevices in front of which they pile leaves and twigs. They are communal, and terrestrial, but will sometimes make nests in holes in trees.

Their food is grass and seeds.


R.N. Smithers, (1983) The Mammals of the Southern African Region, University of Pretoria.

Reptiles recorded on Melville Koppies

Brown House Snake

A harmless Brown House Snake in a digestive trance on one of the Reserve's gates.
Photo: Wendy Carstens


The following have been seen or released into the reserve since 1994:

  • Rinkhals
  • Puff Adder
  • Brown House Snake
  • Mole Snake
  • Herald Snake
  • Common Eggeater
  • Spotted Skaapsteker
  • Aurora House Snake
  • Cape Centipede Eater
  • Common Slug Eater
  • Cross-marked Sand Snake

Snakes are believed to have evolved from a prehistoric lizard some 70 million years ago. Adapted to live in holes, they have lost limbs, skeleton and internal organs have been modified to produce a long sinuous body, nostrils and ears have been covered by scales and eyes by opaque scales. Thus they do not hear or see well unless the object moves (hence “freeze” if unexpectedly encountering a snake). To compensate they are very sensitive to ground vibrations and odours. Vibrations are sensed at the ends of their ribs and they smell by catching pheromones on the tips of their tongues and transferring them to sense organs in the mouth.

Like all reptiles snakes are coldblooded, activity is closely related to temperature and they hibernate over winter. They lay eggs with leathery skins although in some kinds the young hatch inside the female’s body.

Apart from Mambas and the Boomslang, few snakes are aggressive. Most will try to slip away if disturbed and attack only if startled or feel trapped. Also, very few snakes are dangerous. Out of 160 species in South Africa only 25 (mostly cobras and adders) are classified as such.

A snake's worst enemies are man and fire. Snakes' predators are birds of prey, genets, mongooses, other snakes and cats. At Melville Koppies these would be Spotted Eagle Owls, visiting Sparrowhawks and Kites Slender and Yellow Mongooses large snakes and domestic cats. In turn, apart from a few with particular diets, such as Egg and Slug Eaters, they prey on rodents, other snakes, insects and small birds.

Leopard Tortoise

A leopard tortoise.
Photo: Maria Cabaço


Leopard or Mountain Tortoise: Adult and young seen occasionally.

Greater Padloper or Karoo Tortoise: Also seen occasionally.


Rod Patterson, (1987), Reptiles of Southern Africa, C.Struik, Cape Town,
Vincent Carruthers (Ed.), (1997) The Wildlife of Southern Africa, Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg.
D.G. Bradley, (1983) Fitzsimons Snakes of Southern Africa, Delta Books, Johannesburg,
Rod Patterson, Reptiles of Southern Africa, C. Struik, Cape Town. 1987
R.C. Boycott and O. Borquin, (1988), The South African Tortoise Book, Southern Books, Cape Town.