It’s a tough life out here in the wild.
Eat or get eaten. That’s pretty much the daily synopsis for 99% of the species (I’d say elephants don’t stress too much about the getting eaten part).
With threats coming from above, on and even below ground, the wildlife is constantly on the look out for danger.
One of the toughest challenges for all is raising young successfully.
One little creature that really drew my attention recently is the blue waxbill – a bird about the size of a passion fruit/granadilla and probably half that weight. They fly around in little flocks from bush to bush, spending a lot of time on the ground. They can easily be overlooked but with their pastel blue colouration, are exquisite birds.
For such a small bird, raising chicks presents a challenge as everything wants to eat the adults and chicks alike. They have developed a fascinating means of protection for their nests. There are several aspects to their ingenious strategy.
1. They use extremely thorny trees for nesting
Almost all the blue waxbill nests I have seen have been in buffalo thorn trees. For those who aren’t familiar with the buffalo thorn, let’s just say I hope you never get stuck in one – it requires a lot of patience removing your limb/clothing from the combination of hooked and straight thorns. What better place to position a nest other than right in the middle of a well armed set of branches? No bird of prey can get past the tangle of thorns, nor any animals I can think of.
2. They position their nests next to wasps’ nests
Blue waxbills tactically position their woven grass nests in close proximity to paper wasps’ nests. This is so that if a large enough predator attempts to reach the bird’s nest, it will shake up the branches and the wasps’ nest. In doing so, the wasps will become agitated and defensive of their own nest, attacking the potential threat. This is a huge benefit for the waxbills as they essentially have a group of aggressive arthropod armed guards indirectly protecting their chicks. An amazing example of commensalism in nature whereby the waxbills benefit and the wasps are neither harmed nor benefit.
3. The nest is woven tightly to enclose the eggs
By using soft, long grass stems that are tightly woven together, the view of the eggs and chicks inside is completely obscured. Although this may seem obvious, think of other birds that use open platform nests whereby the eggs/chicks are openly exposed. The closed grass nest also protects the tiny chicks from the elements, keeping them safe from cold, moisture and wind.
There are many examples of inter-species interactions out here, many of which go unnoticed…