Red-billed Weaver

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With a body no bigger than a sparrow’s, the graceful PARADISE Wydah (upper right, above its modest mate) tows a flowing tail that may reach a foot in length. On the ground rests the COMBASOU, a feathered Jekyll-and-Hyde whose winter suit (left) is as plain as that of the female (right), while in summer it is clad in dressy bluish black (middle). In the center are the brilliant RED-BILLED WEAVER (left) and the ORANGE WEAVER, both of the family whose name derives from their elaborately interwoven nests.

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

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

The red-billed weaver (Quelea quelea), sometimes called the “red-billed dioch,” is a prime favorite in small aviaries and is one of the common species in captivity (Color Plate V). These birds are those in which the habit of weaving, from which the family name is taken, can be observed with the greatest of with the greatest of ease. It is necessary only to supply them with suitable material, such as ordinary raffia, whereupon they will work with it long and industriously.

Each strand is held in place on twigs or wires with the feet, while the free end is looped and turned and finally knotted, the process being repeated until the straw is completely used.

The birds often seem highly critical of their work; they pull and twist at it, or even undo it and start over, until finally it suits them.

At freedom they weave globular nests of grass, but in captivity their energy is devoted ordinarily to ornamenting the wires of their aviaries with a network of strands. If nests are started, they are usually not fully completed

In the semiarid regions in Africa red-billed weavers gather in flocks that are enormous, as they may include tens of thousands of birds. The late Dr. Edgar A. Mearns often told me of watching such bands in Ethiopia come to drink at small streams. The birds poured in until the ground was covered. and at the water’s edge they literally piled on top of one another in a fluttering, shifting mass. Often some unfortunate would be pinned down by the press of birds steadily alighting and held with its head under water until it drowned.

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