Weaving magic

In between trips I intend expanding my wildlife categories. This week’s post is about Weavers. I have also added Weavers to my birds category.

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”.

 – Marcel Proust

Weaver birds are passerines (perching birds and songsters) belonging to the Ploceidae family, a name they get from the elaborate nests that are woven by many species. The family group Ploceidae which includes Buffalo Weavers, Sparrow-Weavers, Sociable Weavers, true (Ploceus) Weavers, Malimbes, Queleas, Fodies, Bishops and Widowbirds.  The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) world bird list recognizes 64 species of Weaver and 99 sub-species in the genus Ploceus.  Of those sub-species, all occur in Africa with the exception of 6 Asian and 2 Madagascar Weavers. I will not show you all the Weavers because I have not seen all of them – yet. I want to show you the ones I have seen and explain a little about each of them. I too am weaving  a new thread into my ornithological tapestry.

I am trying to give a family view without getting too scientific. There are many references you can “Google” if you want more scientific detail. I am much more interested in the natural uniqueness of Weavers, their romantic visual side and their interconnectedness with, and adaption to, their environs.

In southern Africa, we can find  15 species of these truly magical,  small sparrow-size birds. Weavers combine bright plumages with ingenious weaving talents and cheerful, noisy social disposition. Weavers are seed eaters with conical bills, although some of the bigger species which have more slender bills eat insects. The strong, conical bill is used to cut blades of grass which the Weaver will use in nest-building. Most Weavers live in the tropics and are unique for their nest-building abilities creating durable nests by ingeniously weaving and knotting grass, strips of reed or palm fonds, long leaves, twigs and roots.  Male Weaver plumages can be yellow, red, brown and black. Almost all Weavers are sexually colour dimorphic meaning the male and females are quite different. In the case of Weavers, the difference lies mainly in their plumage and nest-building behaviour. The  females are often dull brown in colour and are the nest quality assurance inspectors.

While all the Weavers of the genus Ploceus are generally similar, there are differences between the species based on appearance, nest design, location and social behaviour.

There are three yellow Weavers with black masks, the Southern Masked Weaver, the Lesser Masked Weaver and the Village Weaver. They all nest in colonies and all have a similar kidney-shaped nest with a  small round entrance in its front underside. The Southern Masked Weaver male is a brightly coloured yellow in breeding season with a black mask which extends from its throat to cheeks and forehead. It also has a red eye. You will find this industrious little chap all over southern Africa.  The Lesser Masked Weaver is slightly smaller, it is similarly yellow coloured in the breeding season and its black mask extends from its throat around its cheeks beyond its forehead to the top of its head and it has a yellow eye. The Lesser masked Weaver is found in northern Namibia, northern Botswana, Zimbabwe and the northern part of South Africa. The Village weaver is slightly bigger than the other two. It is also a brightly yellow coloured Weaver with a black mask which extends from its chest up to its throat around its cheeks to its forehead. It has a red eye. The Village Weaver has a spotted  back, hence its alternate name the Spotted-back Weaver. This distribution of this Weaver overlaps the other two mainly in Zimbabwe, along the northern areas of Botswana and South Africa and the southern part of Mozambique.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth
are never alone or weary of life”.
~ Rachel Carson 

The Weaver males are responsible for building the nests, which are never used more than once. Each male builds a series of nests – typically more than 20 each season. The nests are usually woven with long grass or strips of palms fonds what ever they can tear off which will give them a long thread with which to weave. Not only are these more flexible than dry leaves but as they dry they contract and tighten the knots the birds use to fasten them.

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These Weaver males must be some of the hardest working males in the bird world. The male usually makes his nest at the end of a small branch, preferably hanging over water, making it as inaccessible as possible for raiders such as snakes, Baboons and Harrier-hawks, Little Sparrowhawks and Gabar Goshawks.

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Weavers use only their beaks to weave their threads. Each nest is very similar though not exactly the same. It is a complex structure which hangs from trees usually as a single unit. The whole selection and building process suggests above average intelligence.

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Studies of the Southern Masked Weaver bird revealed marked variations in their approach to nest-building suggesting that they may learn from experience. The nest is usually woven into a kidney- shaped structure with a large entrance on the underside to prevent water ingress when it rains and making it more difficult for raiders to access.

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“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship”.

William Blake

Male Weaver birds construct their elaborate nests during mating season, using them to attract prospective mates. After completion of the nests, the male will defend his small territory around his nests, displaying to the females, attracting their attention to his nests. It has long been assumed that the nest-building skills of birds are instinctive, but new research has revealed that building a nest could very well be a learned skill.

Office PM 2-Nov-14 1032

Once the male has almost completed his nest,  a prospective mate will inspect it. If she does not like the nest’s construction, she will turn down the suitor. The male will then tear down his work and start over. Research shows some males have been observed constructing and tearing down their nests two dozen times before finding a prospective mate who is satisfied with his work. If his nest is accepted by the female, he will add a short entrance tunnel, while the female lines the interior with soft grass heads and feathers. The female usually lays between 2-5 eggs, which are incubated for about 12 days only by the female. The male assists in feeding the chicks. They young fledge the nest when they are about 17 to 21 days old.

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The second Weaver I want to discuss is the Southern Brown-throated Weaver. This stunning brightly coloured Weaver is pure yellow. Only the male has a brown throat and both male and female have a black eye. This is the only Weaver I have seen on the Chobe river near Kasane. They can also be found along the coastal regions of southern Mozambique and northern Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Southern Brown-tjhroated Weaver along the Chobe river

This sub-species of Weaver also weaves a kidney-shaped nest very similar to the Masked Weavers but normally it is a solitary nest built on a reed or a suitable site along a river.

Chobe river wildlife  photography

Another true Weaver is the Chestnut Weaver. This sub-species is found in northern Namibia and north-west Botswana. The next image of two Chestnut Weavers was taken up in the Serengeti. The Chestnut Weaver also has a black mask. In Namibia the mask covers the entire head, in the Serengeti is just a throat, cheek and forehead mask. As the name suggests the male is a Chestnut brown colour and has a black bill. The female is buff coloured with a grey bill. These are highly social Weavers  which tend to flock together.

Serengeti Photographic Safari

Another true weaver is the Cape Weaver. This is also a yellow Weaver, though slightly bigger than the aforementioned Weavers. This Weaver has an orange tinge to its head, chest and belly. The mature male has a black eye line from its beak to its eye. It is similar to the Spectacled Weaver but the latter has an eye line which extends from the beak to behind the eye and it has a black throat. The female is buff coloured with a yellowish back and beige coloured beak.

Cape Weaver at Giant's Castle

The Cape Weaver is only found in South Africa. The next image is of a Cape Weaver foraging in the lichen covered rocks at Giant’s Castle. This Weaver also builds its nest in colonies. The nest is the typical kidney-shape with a small entrance in the front underside.

Cape Weaver at Giant's Castle

The other true Weavers are the Forest Weaver, Olive-headed Weaver, African Golden Weaver, Golden Weaver. Lesser Masked and Spotted-backed Weaver. I will describe these sub-species once I have images of them.

“Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books”.

 – John Dingell

In this next section, I describe other Weavers in the Ploceidae family, which are not “true Weavers”.

Thick-billed Weaver can be seen along the eastern coast of Southern Africa and in northern Botswana and as far north as Serengeti. The next image is of a pair of Thick-billed Weavers building a nest next to Lake Manyara in Tanzania. The male  is a dark brown with a white forehead patch (breeding season only) and a thick bill. The nest is neatly woven construction supported between two reeds. The next image shows a female in their roosting nest. Their breeding nest  has an entrance which is reduced to a small narrow tunnel in the front.

Thick-billed Weaver at its nest site next to Lake Manyara in Tanzania

 You will usually find a Thick-billed Weaver in reeds and thickets along rivers, pans or marshes.

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 Another common Weaver in Southern Africa is the Red-billed Buffalo weaver. This is a distinctive black bird with a red beak.These Weavers make untidy nest of grass and twigs.

Photographic safari with Jerry Haworth

The Red-billed Buffalo Weaver gets its buffalo name from its colour. You generally find these Weavers in colonies, sometimes big ones, in thornveld regions.

 Photographic safari with Jerry Haworth

Further north you will find the White -headed Buffalo Weaver. This Weaver has a white, head, neck, chest and belly. Its wings and back are brown and it has an orange rump.  The nest is a large untidy grass and twig construction. This Weaver also lives in colonies in trees on the open savanna. The next image was taken in the Serengeti.

Serengeti Photographic Safari

 White-headed Buffalo-Weaver in the Serengeti

Serengeti Photographic Safari

The last Weaver in this collection is a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver. I have only seen the White-browed Sparrow-Weavers in Mashatu in south-eastern corner of Botswana. These Sparrow-Weavers are found throughout north, central and west regions of southern Africa. There is no sexual colour dimorphism in Sparrow-Weavers. They live in colonies and make an untidy nest of grass and twigs normally in a thorn tree. The next image is of a Southern White-browed Sparrow-Weaver all puffed up against the cold.

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 Southern White-browed Sparrow-Weaver is ideally perched on a dead tree stump in Mashatu Game Reserve.

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I hope this brief post has triggered more interest in Weavers. There are many more Weavers for me still to photograph. I intend making a special effort on my trips into the bush to expand my collection of images of Weaver species.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe,”
a part limited in time and space.

He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something

separated from the rest– a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. 

This delusion is a kind of prison for us,

restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison

by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures
and the whole of nature in its beauty”.
~ Albert Einstein

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun

Mike

5 thoughts on “Weaving magic

  1. Thank you Mike

    Fascinating – I am sure that you have now found Thick billed Weavers in the Johannesburg area? They along with many other birds are moving into our man made forest.

    Kind regards

    Sue​

    *Sue Goodman* 076 762 6175 (cell) 0865107167 (fax) sue.goodman43@gmail.com

  2. Sue thanks for you comment – you are right. I have found Thick-billed Weavers along the Outspan spruit in Sandton. There is a wonderful variety of birds which move up and down this spruit. It is just difficult to photograph them mainly because of the security issue around the cameras.
    Have fun, Mike

  3. Brilliant photographs as usual Mike. My wife and I stayed at the Bush House in Madikwe a few weeks ago. There was a colony of Weaver nests in a tree between two buildings. Unfortunately it was quite a busy thoroughfare and the birds were bever still for long enough to get a good picture. Nevertheless, there is always another opportunity!

    Keith Smith Northern Ireland

  4. Keith , thanks for your message. I hope you and your wife had a wonderful time in the bush. It must have been dry but the sightings, I am sure, were good. I am off to Mashatu in mid-Feb 15. It should be lovely and green but probably very hot – can’t wait!!
    Best wishes, Mike

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