Nuns (Munias)

Fluttering against the cage bars is a WHITE-HEADED NUN from the Netherlands Indies and the Malay Peninsula. Perched on the upper branches are the BROWN-BREASTED NUN(left) and the BLACK-HEADED NUN. To the lower branches cling the THREE-COLORED NUN (full face) from India and Ceylon, the CUTTHROAT FINCH (left center), and the lovely CORDON BLEU (blue underparts). In the water splash the tiny ZEBRA WAXBILL (above) and the COMMON WAXBILL (left). The long-lived BRONZE NUN rests on the pool’s brink.

By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

Nuns (Munias) The group of weavers known to dealers and aviculturists as “nuns” or “mannikins” comprises a hardy lot of species of small size with sturdy bodies, short tails, and strong, heavy bills. Ornithologists often call them “munias,” Munia being the generic name applied to them in science.

Despite their small size, the birds of this group are sometimes shot by natives for food. For a nest they weave a rounded ball of grass with a concealed opening, hard to find, in the upper end. The various kinds are abundant in captivity and are easily handled. Four of the munias regularly kept as pets are shown in Color Plate VII.

The white-headed nun (Munia maja) is found native in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Nias, and Bali. Marked by the pure-white head that gives it its name, it has two shades of brown on the breast and sides, and the central undersurface is black.

The black-headed nun (Mania atricapilla), with coal-black head and deeper colors throughout, ranges from India and western China to the East Indian islands as far as Celebes and the Philippines. Several geographic varieties are found, distinguished by slight differences of size and color.

The brown-breasted nun (Mania castaneothorax) comes from northern tropical Australia, and the three-colored nun (Mania malacca) from India. All feed on seeds, sometimes attacking the rice crops. There are several other related kinds that may be found in aviaries.

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