The Beautiful World of a Weaver Bird
As common in Asia is the Eurasian tree sparrow (also introduced in the United States), a nuisance in rice fields and sold in great quantities for food. These birds build untidy domed nests with side entrances. Most specialized of the sparrow weavers is the social weaver of Africa, famous for its apartment-house nest, in which 100 to 300 pairs have separate flask-shaped chambers entered by tubes at the bottom. They build these structures, which may be 10 ft (3 m) high and 15 ft (4.5 m) across, high in a sturdy tree, beginning with a roof of straw thatch.
Of the 100 or more African and Asian typical weavers, the small quelea, only 5 in. (12.7 cm) long, sometimes causes huge crop losses in Africa by feeding on grain in flocks numbering as many as one million birds. The African widow weavers (named for the long, drooping black tail plumes of the breeding male), or whydahs, are notable for their selective parasitic nesting habits; they lay their eggs in the nests of waxbills, and their eggs are white, as are those of the waxbill, rather than spotted, as are those of all other weavers.
Many of the weaver family are kept as cage birds, especially the colorful waxbills (e.g., the Java sparrow, mannikin, munia, grenadier, cutthroat, and cordon-bleu, locust, parrot, Gouldian, and fire finches). Weaverbirds are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes.
(The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. | 2015;Copyright The Columbia University Press.)
These are seed-eating birds with rounded conical bills, most of which are from Sub-Saharan Africa, with fewer species in tropical Asia. A few species have been introduced outside their native range. The weaver group is divided into the buffalo, sparrow, typical, and widow weavers. The males of many species are brightly coloured, usually in red or yellow and black, some species show variation in colour only in the breeding season.
Weaver birds, also known as weaver finches, get their name because of their elaborately woven nests (the most elaborate of any birds’), though some are notable for their selective parasitic nesting habits. The nests vary in size, shape, material used, and construction techniques from species to species. Materials used for building nests include fine leaf-fibers, grass, and twigs. Many species weave very fine nests using thin strands of leaf fiber, though some, like the buffalo-weavers, form massive untidy stick nests in their colonies, which may have spherical woven nests within. The sparrow weavers of Africa build apartment-house nests, in which 100 to 300 pairs have separate flask-shaped chambers entered by tubes at the bottom. Most species weave nests that have narrow entrances, facing downward.
Many weaver species are gregarious and breed colonially. The birds build their nests together for protection, often several to a branch. Usually the male birds weave the nests and use them as a form of display to lure prospective females. The weaver bird colonies may be found close to water bodies. They sometimes cause crop damage, notably the red-billed quelea, reputed to be the world’s most numerous bird.