We have found that many of the campsites in Namibia turn up something quite unexpected during a visit, and a weekend we spent at the game farm Melrose, just 30 km to the west of Windhoek early in February was no different.
Early on Saturday morning we took a short walk from the campsite, heading towards a large dam, intending to photograph some of the waterbirds (Egyptian geese, Pied avocets, Little grebes, Little egrets, Red-billed teals and many others), but we were distracted by a burst of energetic activity in a dead tree on a fairly open plain along the way.
As we got closer we saw that this activity was generated by a male Pin-tailed whydah conducting an energetic courtship routine for the benefit of a rather disinterested-looking female perched on a branch, about four metres above the ground. They both flew off as we approached, but we positioned ourselves nearby, trying to look unobtrusive, in the hope that the pair would return and pick up where they left off. Trying to look unobtrusive was quite difficult in the absence of any cover!
In the event, the male Pin-tailed whydah and his harem had other things on their little minds and they virtually ignored our presence! The male, glorious in his pied plumage and with a tail that trebled the length of his body, buzzed after the nondescriptly brown females as if they were the most gorgeous creatures on earth. These females, for their part, very often displayed no interest whatsoever in his impressive display, and seemed to be far more enthusiastic about the seeds that they found in the grass below the trees.
Some of females were simply teasing, though, and one-by-one they flew up into the tree and perched quietly while the hormone-driven male hovered in front of them, bobbing vertically and weaving from side to side, his impressive tail waving below. It was a wonderful display to watch and we were totally enthralled. The amount of energy displayed by the little bird was amazing. Just supporting that tail up as he hovered, holding his body vertical, must have been an effort. Still teasing, some of the females would drop to the ground and the seed, seemingly unimpressed by the display.
But then one of the females decided that she was ready! She remained on her perch as the male completed his display and maneuvered himself behind her. The courtship was a drawn out affair; the mating was competed in seconds. The event looked quite violent as the male all but smothered the female, his wings hardly missing a beat as he tried to maintain his balance and position above and behind her. His enthusiasm exceeded his aptitude though and the performance was concluded when he managed to knock the little female right off her perch. Just as well birds can fly.
Each male Pin-tail has a little harem, though, and for him it was only Act One of the performance that was over. A short rest and he was flitting about looking for another female to woo. You have to stand in awe of his stamina!
We never did get any decent photos of the waterbirds.
Read more about this bird on my previous blog : <Bird of the week : Pin-tailed Whydah