weaver nest

January 23, 2017 - African Pygmy Falcon or Pygmy Falcon (Polihierax semitorquatus)

Requested by: @hearthawk

Found in eastern and southern Africa, these tiny falcons are less than eight inches (20 centimeters) long. They eat large insects and small reptiles and rodents, spotting their prey from a perch before swooping down onto it and also hunting insects in flight. Usually nesting in empty weaver bird nests, both parents care for the chicks and are sometimes assisted by chicks from a previous brood. Somewhat unusually for raptors, males and females have different plumage. Females have a brownish patch on their backs while males’ backs are grey.

In honor of Algy’s very special day, here is a picture of a little bird from the Sonoran Desert in the southwest United States. This is a verdin (Auriparus flaviceps), and it is very loud relative to its size. I often hear them scolding me from their perches in the green palo verde trees. They are expert weavers, and make tubular nests for egg laying in the spring, and for roosting during the hot summers. They orient their summer nests to catch the prevailing breeze to keep cool. Happy Birthday, Algy, from your tiny desert friend (and me!).

Thank you so much for this lovely post and your very interesting notes about this sweet little desert bird. It looks rather like our European robin, except that the robin wears his orange-red on his chest, not on his head. Some robins are currently building a nest in Algy’s assistants’ shed, as here it is necessary to find maximum shelter from the prevailing “breezes”… Algy wonders what it would be like to live in a desert environment, where it is so hot, and the sky is almost always blue…

Algy sends you and all the desert birds a lot of very fluffy hugs xoxo

Southern masked weaver males make up to 25 hanging nests per mating season (September to January) in hopes of finding a female mate. After building and dancing, a female will come to inspect the work done. If the work is not up to par (females prefer nests made with fresh material and are neat in nature), the female may dismantle the nest, making the male build another one to her liking. If the female is pleased with the build, she will stay and copulate with the male. 


How do birds build their nests?

Scientists have discovered that a bird’s choice of nest material is much more complex than first thought. 

There is a massive diversity of nests in the natural world. Some birds stitch leaves together, others create structural masterpieces. 

It  was originally believed that a bird’s choice of nest material was built into their genes. However scientists have discovered that birds learn to choose nest materials based on their physical properties, requiring a higher level of cognition.

By giving zebra finches stiff or floppy string, Dr Ida Bailey and team found that birds chose the best building material - stiff string allowing them to build strong nests in less time. 

This research funded by BBSRC helps to provide insight into how complex cognition evolved in animals.

Image credit: Dr Ida Bailey, University of St Andrews 

We typically associate weavers with various tones of yellow and black but the unique Red-headed Weaver certainly breaks that mold, with its bright red head and bill – unsurprisingly, since it is in a genus of its own! Not that it is the only weaver to do so - within the more well-known group (the Ploceus genus), there are several other interesting examples that differ from the ‘norm’, such as Maxwell’s Black Weaver and Vieillot’s Black Weaver. Some weavers also have standout nest styles, the red-headed weaver again being no exception as the only weaver to make its nest from twigs rather than grass. A trip to just about anywhere within the Afrotropics might give you a chance to encounter this species, photographed here by Rich Lindie in Pilanseberg.

In this photo taken at dawn on September 7th 2015, a cormorant perches on a tree, from which hang the nests of weaver birds, as it looks out across Lake Ihema, Akagera National Park, Rwanda. The reserve, situated on the border with Tanzania, is being revived through the re-introduction of lions and greater involvement of local villagers in the park’s conservation. Credit: AP/Ben Curtis