Colours of Wildlife: Spectacled Weaver

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Spectacled Weaver

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Spectacled Weaver by Willem

Today's painting is of a Spectacled Weaver, Ploceus ocularis. This is a beautiful and common bird where I live, often entering gardens. Its descending 'tee-dee-dee-dee-dee' call is familiar to many people. Its natural habitat is well-vegetated places: forest edges, moist woodlands and thickets. Its distribution stretches from Nigeria to Ethiopia in the north, down southward to northern Namibia and Botswana, much of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and in an arc into northern and eastern South Africa.

Despite being common, spectacled weavers aren't that often seen. They are secretive and skulk and creep about the vegetation. But when seen, they are quite handsome. The male, which I illustrated here, is greenish yellow on his back and tail, and bright yellow below with an orange to chestnut-brown wash on his head and breast. The black spectacle encircles the bright yellow eye, and there's a black 'bib' down his throat. Females are similar but lack the black bib, and the yellow is less suffused with orange. Males and females form couples and are often seen together. The birds are about the size of sparrows, or slightly larger.

The sharp-tipped bill of the spectacled weaver is a versatile tool. The bird is omnivorous, eating insects, small lizards, berries and other fruits, and drinking nectar from flowers. Creeping up and down trunks and branches, it pokes its bill into crevices in the bark and snatches up the critters it finds. It also gathers small insects from leaves. Its feet are strong and nimble and it can hang upside down from thin twigs. It flies fast and straight to traverse open regions between one bush or tree and another. It often forages along with other bird species in 'bird parties'. These groups move methodically through the vegetation, each species targeting a different kind of prey. Insects fleeing from one bird often get grabbed by another.

The typical 'tee-dee-dee-dee-dee' calls of these weavers seem to have various functions. It may help a pair to keep in contact with each other while they creep about the bushes. But they also call when sitting in plain sight of each other. The calls may therefore have some role in proclaiming their territories. The male also has a complex more typically weaver-like 'swizzling' and twanging song, though this is not often heard. They don't give elaborate displays and calls at their nests as the more social weavers do. When alarmed by a person or predator, birds may hop about nervously, flick their wings and give 'chak-chak' calls.

Spectacled Weaver Nest by Willem

Being weavers, they build elaborate nests. Unlike the large nesting colonies of other weavers, the nest is built alone and on its own. The male alone weaves it, using long strips such as grass blades or reeds, or pieces pulled from palm leaves (one nest has even been recorded as being made of horse hair). It is sited at the end of a branch hanging downward, often over a river, stream or pond. The male will strip the leaves off the branch except for a few right at the tip left as an anchoring point around which he will tie the first few strips of the nesting material and from there build the rest of it. The nest is very tightly and expertly woven. It has a long, narrow entrance tunnel pointing straight down, from 6 to 30 cm/5½" to 12" in length. This is to make it hard for potential nest robbers like snakes or monitor lizards to enter. It also delays female cuckoos so they can't quickly sneak in to lay an egg; nevertheless, cuckoos do sometimes succeed in parasitizing them.

The female weaver doesn't build the nest, but once it is built, she will bring in fine material to line the breeding chamber with. She typically lays two or three eggs. Both parents incubate them. They hatch in about 2 weeks and the chicks fledge aged about 17 days. Male and female stay together for many years; this is different from some other weaver species where the male will mate with several females and have little interest further interest in any of them. The greater equality between the sexes in this weaver species goes along with their greater similarity. The female is quite bright yellow and attractive with her black spectacles; in more polygynous weavers, the females are far drabber, lacking bright yellow plumage and black facial markings.

Being widespread, abundant and adaptable, spectacled weavers for the moment are in no danger of extinction.

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