Dog-Collared Sombre Blackbird
(Clericus polydenominata)

Average length 60 to 72 inches (although longer and shorter specimens may be seen).

Identification: Similar to common laity but plumage and behaviour should serve to differentiate. Plumage black with narrow white collar—unbroken at throat. Feet black, of leathery appearance. Beak pink—often with blueish tint during winter months. When in groups are often seen with wings folded behind rump.

Distribution: Found throughout South Africa in close association with common laity. Not an indigenous species; believed migrant from Europe.

Habits: Usually found congregating with flocks of common laity, the females of which are frequently seen with plumage of vivid colours.

Nesting: This usually occurs close to old buildings with spires. They are usually very friendly and may be seen around nesting sites of common laity at tea-time.

Feeding: Mainly omnivorous and, in coastal waters, may sometimes be seen wading and fishing from beaches or rocks.

Call: The voice is distinctive, commencing 'Brrrrr—rethren' and continuing low and pleasant—often prolonged. Usually sings in congregations.

—Frank A. Goodliffe

     The Dog-Collared Sombre Blackbird
(Clericus polydenominata)

In 1963 Frank Goodliffe published in the South African journal Bokmakierie the first scientific description of an unusual bird known as the Dog-Collared Sombre Blackbird. The text of his description is reproduced in the column on the left.

Goodliffe's description gained further legitimacy when in 1964 it was excerpted in the prestigious journal Zoological Record. The editors of this journal listed the Clericus polydenominata as a member of the family Icteridae (which includes such birds as the American Orioles). Thus, the Dog-Collared Sombre Blackbird officially joined the ranks of the world's avian wildlife.

Once Zoological Record had given its imprimatur to the reality of the Clericus polydenominata, a scientist named M.A. Traylor followed up on this by publishing in 1967 a small booklet devoted to a fuller description of the species. He argued that Zoological Record had misplaced the bird by listing it in the family Icteridae, suggesting that it more properly belonged in the family Ploceidae, the Bishop Birds.

  • Peter Dance. Animal Fakes & Frauds. Sampson Low (1976): 82.
  • F.A. Goodliffe. "Dog-collared Sombre Blackbird (Clericus polydenominata)." Bokmakierie 15 (1963): 9.
  • M.A. Traylor. The nomenclatural standing of Clericus polydenominata. 1967.

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