Written by: Ben Coley
For the past week or so, the temperatures in the Lowveld have started to soar. The days have become longer and evening attire has changed from beanies and heavy jackets, to shorts and perhaps only a light fleece. Migratory birds have also started to return in their numbers and we have seen plenty of Wahlberg’s eagles and even a rare sighting of a thick-billed cuckoo in recent days! Spring has most definitely arrived.
The avian activity around camp has also changed with various species of bird being seen on a daily basis flitting from tree to tree gathering nesting material as they begin to prepare for the breeding season. Many males have lost their drab ‘eclipse plumage’ and developed their more striking feathers in an attempt to woo potential mates. One such example is our resident red-headed weaver who has been diligently constructing his nursery as his newly acquired mate looks on with a critical eye. Should his handy-work not be to her satisfaction he will have start from scratch… (One of many parallels with our own species!!)
For the past week, he has been making regular forays to the tree outside the office and I have had a few opportunities to photograph his return to his fortress that is now taking shape. Whilst by no means the most beautiful architect of the weaver family, the red-headed weaver’s construction skills are still impressive. In less than a week he has fashioned a complete ball suspended from the tip of the branch with only the entrance tunnel still to go.
The red headed weaver is the only species in southern Africa that uses twigs as opposed to grass to create his abode and is thus an easy nest to identify in the field. They also do not build over water as with many species. Nowadays their rather untidy masterpieces are becoming commonplace, adorning a variety of trees, like Christmas decorations, in the local area.
It is a miracle that an animal with a brain not much bigger than the size of a pea is able to manufacture such a complex construction. Even more so when one considers that they have not been taught the skills necessary to do so. It is a perfect example of nature over nurture and yet another indicator of the complexity of the natural world.
As I sit in my office writing this, I can see his nest swaying in the light summer breeze and I can already feel myself willing him and his mate on to successfully produce, and care for, the next generation of these supreme avian architects!