I’ve always had the utmost admiration for Long-tailed widowbirds – when they’re in their full plumage, that is. Watching them fly laboriously over the grasslands displaying their magnificent tail feathers is a wondrous sight to see. However, after seeing the recent photos of a woodpecker carrying a weasel on its back, my admiration is somewhat diminished! Just kidding – I still love these gorgeous birds and never tire of watching them in their quest to attract the females of the species.
On our recent trip to Wakkerstroom (in Mpumalanga, South Africa) we saw many of these birds and spent time enjoying the spectacle of their mating ritual. It is hard to believe, when you see them decked out in their full mating regalia, that when they are not breeding, the males are rather dowdy and almost identical to the females. Then it’s only their black flight feathers and red epaulets that distinguish them from the ladies.
For obvious reasons, flying is kept to a minimum when they are breeding, and they spend a lot of their time then sitting on fences or sturdy branches or bushes (most probably to catch their breath).
Long-tailed widowbirds are polygynous, meaning that they mate with many females during a season, which explains why are seen with quite large flocks.
They mainly eat seeds, but insects, berries and nectar also form part of their diet. Nest are built just off the ground in thick grass.
Next time you’re fortunate enough to see them, spare a thought for all the effort that is being taken to attract a female.