Tag Archives: sociable weavers

Bird of the Week – Week 119 – Sociable weaver

Sociable weavers are small birds with a length of about 14 cm and the sexes are alike in both size and plumage colouration. Their upper parts are scalloped with black and their under parts are white; their flanks are marked with black; and they have black face masks. Bills are grey; eyes are brown; legs and feet dark grey.

Sociable weaver

Pretty little birds, yes, but the most distinctive feature of Sociable weavers is not the birds themselves, but rather their enormous communal nests. The nests, which may house up to 500 birds, can be seen on trees, telephone poles, windmills or virtually any structure within the arid savannah which is their preferred habitat. The nests, made entirely from grass and some thought to be decades old, can become so heavy that the branches to which they are attached snap under the load and it is not unusual to see these nests on the ground.

Sociable weaver

These enormous nests, probably amongst the largest structures made by any birds, are often subject to predation, particularly by Cape cobras that feed on the eggs and young nestlings, an event that we were excited to witness at a large nest in eastern Namibia. Some of the chambers within the nests are sometimes taken over by Pygmy falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus), Rosy-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis) and other species for roosting or breeding. The nests may catch fire during the summer months and the nests that are built on electricity pylons may cause short circuits when they become wet during periods of rain.

Sociable weaver

Each pair of birds builds its own chamber within these communal nests, in which the female lays a clutch of between two and six eggs that hatch after an incubation of about 14 days.

Sociable weavers are endemic to the southern African region, their distribution being limited to the arid north-western parts of South Africa and a large part of southern and central Namibia. Sociable weavers are mainly insectivorous, although they eat some seeds, and they do most of their foraging on the ground.

Sociable weaver

Their call is a series of metallic chipping sounds.

The scientific binomial for the Sociable weaver is Philetairus socius; Philetairus from the Latin for “loving friends and companions”, and socius from the Latin for “sociable”. Thus we have an extremely sociable bird, twice over!

Sociable weaver

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1

Our six night stay at Rooiputs turned out to be the highlight of our Botswana 2010 trip.  This idyllic spot is less than 30 kms from the Twee Rivieren border post and sits on a hill just above the Nossob River.  One has to take a detour to this camp but the road is no challenge and it doesn’t take long to reach the six well-appointed campsites.  The sign maker either had a sense of humour or didn’t know how to spell!

Crazy spelling

Within hours of settling in we had dramas unfolding before us that had us grabbing our cameras to catch the action.  We were sitting in the wooden A-frame having some tea when Hillary noticed an animal movement behind us.  It was a mother polecat carrying her baby to a new hiding place.  Rob and I positioned ourselves next to the hole, cameras in hand, and had rather a long wait until she briefly popped her head out to see what was happening.  After doing that once or twice she decided to remain in hiding until she could get away under cover of darkness.

Polecat

Back in the A-frame we heard a scratching noise above us and were excited to discover a big barn owl in the broken rafters.   Birds are always a priority for us so Hillary filled a pan with water and attracted some of the many sociable weavers in the area,

Sociable weavers

but she hastily had to move it away from their van area when she realized who else was partial to a drink.  Check out the trail that the puffadder left in the dirt leading to the pan.

Puffadder visits our camp
Puffadder trail

That evening we took a drive along the road to the Kij  Kij waterhole and saw our second lion of the trip – a very emaciated cub that didn’t look like it would survive very long.

Emaciated lion cub

Back at the campsite later we were having a braai when we saw a Cape fox sniffing at the hole where the polecat and her baby were hiding.

Cape fox smells polecats!

Hillary was most upset and wanted to intervene to stop the baby polecat being eaten.  The mother, who had been very wary of us in the afternoon, suddenly decided that we could help her protect her baby and , acting as a decoy for the fox, she ran right into the A-frame where we were standing.  Soon we had fox and polecat running around us totally oblivious of our presence.  Funnily enough the Cape fox wasn’t interested in eating the mother polecat – his main aim was to get the baby.

Mother polecat in the open

This went on for quite a while until the polecat decided it would be safer to deposit her baby in a burrow right next to our braai fire, which she duly did when the fox was distracted.  We never knew the outcome of the polecat saga, whether the baby was moved safely during the night or eaten, but the Cape fox came back to our campsite night after night.  These were both truly magnificent animals and all the more pleasing to see because they are not so common.

A short stay in the bush makes one very aware of the food chain and how every animal is in danger of being eaten.  One soon understands why the animals are so nervous, or  alternatively, relaxed around other beasts that don’t pose a threat to them.

Our stay at Rooiputs had certainly started on a very positive note – we looked forward to what the next few days had in store for us.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1 | Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2 |
Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3 | Trips