Bird of the week – Week 52: White-browed sparrow-weaver

A common sight in trees throughout the arid and semi-arid regions of southern Africa are untidy balls of dry straw, often several clustered in close proximity to each other and seeming to favour the western edge of the tree. Pause for a few moments next to these scruffy-looking nests and you will hear the characteristic chattering and squealing of the nest-builders, who are also bound to show themselves if you give them a minute, as they as bold by nature. Quite small, with a length of about 17 cm, these boldly marked weavers are White-browed sparrow-weavers.
Locally common residents, the White-browed sparrow-weavers are brown and white, with brown heads and upper parts, and with a broad white eyebrow and white under parts. The white rump is clearly visible when the bird is in flight. Legs and feet are light brown; the bill black or horn-coloured and the eyes brown. The males and females are similar in plumage and the males are slightly larger than the females.
White-browed sparrow-weavers are usually found in pairs or small groups in woodlands, open veld, and farmlands, preferring areas where there are clumps of trees. They forage on the ground for the insects and seeds on which they feed, but do not stray too far from their nesting trees, to which they retreat quickly if disturbed.
As mentioned, the White-browed sparrow-weavers build an untidy oval nest of dry grass, lined with soft grass and usually with two entrances. These nests are quite conspicuously placed on the outer branches of the chosen trees, usually quite high above the ground and the birds may build several nests, one for breeding and the others for roosting. They are monogamous and the females lay a clutch of one to three white eggs, speckled with pink or brown, that hatch after an incubation period of about 14 days.
The scientific binomial for the White-browed sparrow-weaver is Plocepasser mahali; Plocepasser from the Greek word for a web combined with the Latin word for a sparrow, and mahali from the Setswana word for the White-browed sparrow-weaver.

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