Weaver birds are renowned for being among the most accomplished nest builders in the bird world, with nests that are intricately and skillfully woven together. Each weaver species has specialised in a unique nest-making formula and is able to create nests of a distinctive shape and size. Contrary to popular belief, the primary reason for building a nest is not to sleep in at night but rather for the important purpose of breeding and incubating their eggs.
With summer and the onset of the rains fast approaching, many bird species will be transforming their plumage from drab browns and greys to brighter flamboyant hues as they enter the breeding season, weavers are included. The breeding process of the Village Weaver from the construction of the nest to attracting females and egg laying in it is fascinating. However, in this post, I’m going to explore the eight different weaver species (including the Village Weaver) and their various nest types and designs that we are likely to see at Londolozi.
Before diving into the list of species, it’s worth noting the design diversity of each woven nest. Weavers use a variety of ‘stitches’ to construct and attach their woven nests to an overhanging branch. The nests of different weaver species can be broadly classified according to the position and length of their entrance tunnels. It is thought that nests with long entrance spouts have evolved more recently than those with shorter spouts since a longer spout is more effective in combating predation.
Lesser Masked Weaver
The Lesser Masked Weaver designs a nest with a bottom entrance and a short tunnel entrance. This species breeds in colonies with several males having 2-3 females simultaneously and up to 10 – 30 nests overhanging a source of water. The nests are hung from trees and often very close together mixed with other weaver species nests such as Village and Southern-masked Weavers. The male displays from the nest by hanging upside down and rapidly fanning his wings, spreading his tail and swaying his head while singing.
Southern Masked Weaver
The Southern Masked Weaver differs from the Lesser Masked Weaver by having a less distinctive black facial marking and its eyes are red. Their nests are kidney-shaped and designed with a large bottom entrance and no tunnel. The material used for weaving is grass, stripped palm leaves or reeds and the nests are often hung from trees or reeds in a river bed.
The Red-headed Weaver is monogamous and like many other weavers, the male is responsible for building the nest. It is the only local species to build its retort-shaped nest with tendrils and twigs, as opposed to green grass. This gives the nest a rather untidy look compared with the other woven nests. This species uses a bottom entrance long tunnel design which is thought to prevent predation or competitors wanting to take over the nest since they often live alone.
This species is also monogamous, and the pair remain together for several successive seasons. The males take up to 2-3 weeks to build the nests alone. The nest is often suspended above the ground from a branch or creeper, often but not always, above water.
The Thick-billed Weavers’ nest is a work of art. The male takes up to 12 days to construct this beautifully designed nest, which is slung between two or more upright reeds and has a side entrance with no long tunnel entrance. When a female enters the nest and accepts it, the male will narrow the entrance for safety reasons.
The Village Weaver’s nest is similar to the Southern Masked Weavers in shape and size. Each male will build 3-5 nests and continue to demolish and replace nests not accepted by the females. Each nest can take 9 – 15 hours to construct. The female will choose the nest that is most structurally sound and not based on appearance. Once the nest has been accepted by a female, the male will build a small entrance tunnel.
Other weavers that do not ‘weave’ their nests:
White-browed sparrow weaver
Unlike the weavers that build woven nests, the White-Browed Sparrow Weaver (and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers) tend to stay in the nest all year round. These weavers are cooperative breeders and so nest building is done by both genders. The nest is messy and the material is often taken and reused from old nests that is then wedged (not woven) into the fork of branches on a tree.
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
This species lives in a communal nest which can contain several individuals and they tend to stay in the nest all year round saving energy and requiring less food. The males will defend ‘neighbourhoods’ within the greater nest. The nest has a scruffy appearance and thorny twigs and branches are used to prevent invasion from predators. These nests are often found on the northern side of tree canopies as well as in trees overlooking watering holes.
The Weaver is easily one of the most fascinating bird species at Londolozi. Guides and keen birders alike have a great appreciation for not just their beautiful plumage but their special innate ability to weave spectacular-looking and sturdy nests. Just imagine the intelligence of these birds able to weave with a beak and two feet of talons! Next time you are on a game drive, especially in the summertime, keep a look out for the architecture of the wizardry weavers.