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

Occasionally, in an aviary or in some birdstore cage, one sees a tiny, black, sparrowlike bird with white bill and orange feet, whose plumage has a slight metallic sheen. This is the combasou (Hypochera cizalybeata), another African species that is common in the wild, where it lives familiarly about settlements, but for some reason is not abundant in collections of living birds (Color Plate V).

The combasou makes an excellent pet for those who enjoy unusual birds, though it is not a showy species. One that I kept for years lived in great contentment in an ordinary canary cage where it had the protection of a muslin bag around the lower section. Behind this screen it seemed to feel secure, but was frightened when it was removed.

Its clear, warbling song was given only when the room was quiet. Its plumage changes were most interesting, as for several months it would be in clear black feather, then would molt into a plain, streaked dress, and change after a period to black again.

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