Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus)

Cover image by Phillip Nieuwoudt– Garingboom Guest Farm, Free State – BirdPix No. 138305


Burchell’s Courser is a smallish plover-like species. Its most diagnostic feature is the blue-grey hind crown and nape, distinguishing it from the similar Temminck’s Courser. It has a white supercilium that extends from the eye onto the nape. There is a narrow, sometimes indistinct, black line behind the eye. The back and chest are uniformly brown with little contrast between the two. There is an indistinct black band separating the brown upper belly from the white lower belly. The vent and lower belly are white. The bill is relatively long when compared to other coursers and the legs are whiteish.

The sexes are alike.

Immatures have mottled cream and black upper parts and lack the distinctive head markings of the adult.

Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus
Photos by Gregg Darling (left) and Tino Herselman (right)

In flight shows a broad white trailing edge to the secondaries. This is distinct from other coursers in the region.

Note the diagnostic white trailing edge to the secondaries.
Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – Karoo-Gariep Nature Reserve, Northern Cape
Photo by Gerald Wingate

Status and Distribution

The Burchell’s courser is endemic to Southern Africa, extending marginally into south-western Angola. It is generally uncommon across its range but may be locally common at some sites in Namibia and the arid west of South Africa.

The population, notably near the edge of its distribution in the south and east, is known to have declined sharply in recent years. In the past it was regularly recorded from Botswana but recently there have been very few confirmed sightings. The nature and causes of its decline are not understood and should be investigated.

SABAP2 distribution map for Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – January 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


Burchell’s courser inhabits dry, open short or burnt grassland, Karoo scrub, stony semidesert and open desert plains. It is very partial to bare saltpans and ploughed and fallow lands. It is absent from fynbos and avoids woodlands of any kind.

Inhabits open, bare patches in arid areas.
Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – Near Poffadder, Northern Cape
Photo by Zenobia van Dyk


Burchell’s Courser is highly nomadic and possibly seasonally migratory in some areas. This species feeds on a range of insects and is especially fond of Harvester Termites. It runs rapidly and forages by pecking at the ground after running a short distance. It may dig with its bill in soft soil. The posture is very upright and when alarmed bobs its tail and sways its body while holding its head still. May be found in pairs but is more often gregarious in groups of 5 to 15 birds.

Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover, Northern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

Breeding may take place during most months but mainly August to December. 1 or 2 eggs are laid per clutch, usually directly on the substrate. No true nest is constructed, but the site may be lined with antelope or sheep droppings, stones or clumps of earth.

The eggs are incubated by both sexes, however, further details are unrecorded.

An adult incubating its egg.
Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – Ncandu Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Garth Aiston
The egg is laid on bare ground and no nest is constructed.
Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – Ncandu Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Garth Aiston

Further Resources

Species text adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Garth Aiston, Gerald Wingate, Gregg Darling, Michael Wright, Phillip Nieuwoudt, Tino Herselman and Zenobia van Dyk is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Bloukopdrawwertjie (Afrikaans): Ingegane (Xhosa); Makopjoane (South Sotho); Rosse Renvogel (Dutch); Courvite de Burchell (French); Rostrennvogel (German); Corredor de Burchell (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus). Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2023/01/25/burchells-courser-cursorius-rufus/

Burchell’s Courser (Cursorius rufus) – Near Normandien, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Michael Wright

Bird identificationbirding

Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!