28 September 2012 by Julienne du Toit

The summer swizzler

There’s a special magic in spending a few hours watching a southern masked-weaver construct for a lady love. Weavers create intricate nests out of palm fronds, grass and reeds, ad-libbing where necessary.

Southern masked-weaver does a swift roof inspection. Photo Chris Marais

There is no sound in southern Africa that announces the arrival of summer more confidently than the busy, swizzling song of a southern masked-weaver.


										A weaver weaving. Photo Chris Marais

Usually it is sung – if you can call such a harsh sound a song – as a triumphant announcement of a new nest. The bright yellow bird hangs below his nest, fluttering his wings alluringly, or hops about on top of it, desperately trying to attract the attention of a passing female.

In winter, the weaver becomes a nondescript little brown job, but in spring and summer, he’s as yellow as a canary, with a striking black face, pink legs and feverish red eyes.

There’s exactly such a hopeful yellow avian courtier in my garden at the moment, and he has fastened his nest to a dangling piece of wisteria.

At first, our masked-weaver was acutely camera conscious, as fussy as a film star about his best side and the camera angles. He flew up into the tree and peered down at us, willing us to go away so he could build in peace.

In the end, his instincts drove him to it. 

In winter, the weaver becomes a nondescript little brown job, but in spring and summer, he’s as yellow as a canary, with a striking black face, pink legs and feverish red eyes.

A nest is almost always attached to the end of a long whippy or dangling branch. And if said branch is not naked already, the weaver will briskly strip it of all leaves. This provides no cover for any hungry snakes looking for eggs or chicks.


										An integrity test. Will the roof hold? Photo Chris Marais

Then he busily sets about creating the nest. He brings lengths of reed, palm frond or grass, and in the deftest of motions, makes a knot. It’s incredible that using only using his beak and the odd claw, he can do such a skilful thing. I’ve always missed this critical stage. The entire structure depends on this knot.

He will dart away and come back with green fronds and grasses, creating a round frame, and then busily poke softer materials through the matrix he’s created until the nest hangs like a strange green fruit at the bottom of the branch.

The nondescript female will not lay her eggs in anything other than a green nest. Once it has faded to brown, and a female has not fallen in love with her new home, the male will swiftly destroy his handiwork and start again.

If he’s successful and she accepts his nest, they will mate, she will lay her eggs, and he will quickly set about creating another nest nearby to attract yet another female. A weaver's work is never done...

Category: Wildlife


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