Tag Archives: pin-tailed whydah

Courtship Routine of Hormone-driven Pin-tailed whydahs

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.

Pin-tailed whydah

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!

Pin-tailed whydah

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.

Pin-tailed whydah

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.

Pin-tailed whydah

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.

Pin-tailed whydah

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.

Pin-tailed whydah

Read more about this bird on my previous blog :    <Bird of the week :  Pin-tailed Whydah

Bird of the Week – Week 112 – Pin-tailed whydah

The Pin-tailed whydah is resident throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara and is quite widespread in southern Africa, absent only from most of Botswana and from the coastal desert of Namibia. Its favoured habitat is open woodland, grassland and suburban gardens.

Pin-tailed whydah

The Pin-tailed whydah is a fairly small bird, with a length of approximately 13 cm. During the breeding season the males and females are very different in plumage, and the breeding male grows a tail that adds 20cm or so to his length. During this time the male has a black crown and back and the long tail is also black. The wings are black with white patches and the under parts, including the throat, are white. The eyes are dark brown; legs and feet are dark grey and the bill is bright red. The females and non-breeding males are similar, rather nondescript with streaked brown upperparts and white to buff under parts.

Pin-tailed whydah

The call of the Pin-tailed whydah is a high-pitched, sustained series of “swirt swee swirt” and similar sounds. They feed mainly on grass seeds and grain, for which they forage on the ground, and also on termites.

Pin-tailed whydahs are both polygynous and promiscuous. The males are aggressively territorial, and each make has a small group of females in his territory, but these females will also mate with other males who may venture into the territory while the main man is otherwise engaged. The males mating display involves a great deal of hovering in front of the female in order to display his tail, and only about one in ten of these displays will result in mating.

Pin-tailed whydah - female

They are brood parasites, and do not build a nest of their own. They parasitize mainly Common waxbills (Estrilda astrild), and the female whydah may destroy one of the waxbill’s eggs before laying one or two of her own. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of about eleven days and the gape of the newborn whydah will be similar to that of the host bird.

Pin-tailed whydah

The scientific binomial for the Pin-tailed whydah is Vidua macroura; Vidua from the Latin for a widow, referring to the black plumage and the long black tail; and macroura from the Greek for a large tail. Thus the name describes a widow with a large tail, which does nothing to capture the essence of this beautiful little bird!

Pin-tailed whydah

I managed to get some excellent photographs of Whydahs courting.   Read :  Courtship Routine of Hormone Driven Pin-tailed Whydahs