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Weaver information for school projects

There is enough information on this webpage to start a project about weaverbirds. At the bottom there is a reading list so that books can be found in your local library and links to other useful webpages. In the paragraphs below there are sometimes links to more information on these webpages if you would like to know more about that question or subject.

What is a weaverbird?

A weaverbird is a small bird belonging to the family Ploceidae. They are mainly tropical, Old World species noted for their nest building abilities. All species build domed nests, sometimes with long entrance tunnels. True weavers build durable nests with elaborate weaving and knotting grass and reed blades. Weavers are seed eaters with conical bills, although some species have more slender bills for eating insects. Plumages are often yellow, red and black although females are often dull brown colours. The Sociable Weaver builds the largest communal bird nest. The Red-billed Quelea is the most numerous land-bird.

The main groups of weavers include: buffalo weavers, sparrow weavers, social weavers, true (Ploceus) weavers, malimbes, queleas, fodies, bishops and widows.

Some examples of weavers:

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

White-browed Sparrow Weaver

Village Weaver

Red-billed Quelea

Southern Red Bishop

Seychelles Fody

Crested Malimbe

Where are weaverbirds found?

Weavers are found mainly in Africa south of the Sahara Desert, five species are found in southern Asia, and nine species are found on the Indian Ocean islands (Madagscar, Seychelles, Comores, Mauritius). The map below shows where weavers are found. It also shows that more species are found in the countries closer to the equator.

Some weavers have been introduced to other countries, e.g. Australia, Spain and the West Indies off the North American coast.

In which habitats are weaverbirds found?

The main habitats where weavers are found are semi-arid areas, savanna, grasslands and forests. Many typical weavers are found in savannas and some of these have adapted to living in gardens and urban areas, e.g. the Southern Masked Weaver. Some weavers are adapted to living in arid and semi-arid areas, particularly the Sociable Weaver. This species builds huge communal nests which provide shade during hot days and warmth during cold nights. Some weavers are found in forests, e.g. the Dark-backed Weaver and Malimbes in West Africa. Often forest living weavers build nests with long entrance tubes which could prevent smaller snakes from getting inside the nests - see under section on nests.

The habitat on weavers relates to their diet. Weavers in forests and woodlands feed on insects and spiders to a great extent, but may still eat seeds. Savanna and grassland weavers feed largely on seeds, especially grass seeds which are available in this habitat.

Main habitats of weavers:

eg Dark-backed Weaver

Spectacled Weaver
feeding on spiders & insects

eg Village Weaver

Southern Red Bishop flock
feeding on grass seeds

What colours are weavers?

The main colours of weavers are black, yellow, red and brown. Females of many species are brownish, but females of forest-living weavers are often similar to bright males.

Count how many weaver species on this page match with the main colours black, yellow, red and brown.

What do weaverbirds eat?

Many weavers are seed-eaters. Weavers do not have much variation in bill size and shape compared to some other groups of birds, like sunbirds or wading birds. There is some variation in how long and how thick bills are which determines the size of the seeds that the weaver prefers to eat. Some weavers eat more insects than seeds and will usually have more slender bills. Weavers feed their chicks with insects because the chicks need the protein in insects to help them grow. The Thick-billed Weaver has the thickest bill of all weavers and uses it to crack the seeds of forest fruits.

Left: White-browed Sparrow Weaver, showing general weaver bill shape

Bills of some southern African adult male weavers:

Spectacled Weaver
slender bill
insect eater

Village Weaver
long thick bill
generalist feeder

Red-billed Quelea
short thick bill
seed eater

Southern Red Bishop
short thick bill
seed eater

Thick-billed Weaver
very thick bill
nut cracker

What nests do weaverbirds build?

Weaver nests are usually built of sticks, grass or blades of reeds or grass. Weavers use their bills to build nests. They sometimes use their feet to hold part of a grass blade while using the bill to thread the other end through the nest.

Some weaver nests:

Sociable Weaver communal nest

Spectacled Weaver single nest

Village Weaver colony

Yellow-crowned Bishop hidden in grass

If you would know of weavers breeding near you and you would like to count the weaver nests, you can take part in a project. See more details under PHOtos of Weaver Nests (PHOWN)

How old do weaverbirds become?

Many weavers can reach 10 to 15 years old. The oldest weaver in the wild was a Village Weaver that was at least 14 years old. In captivity weavers can become even older, up to 24 years old in the case of a Village Weaver. In the wild the only way to find out how old birds become is by ringing birds and waiting for some of them to be recaptured or found dead. Some of the records of weaver ages are low because there has not been enough ringing for those species yet. To see longevity records for southern African weavers, look here.

Reading list - books and web links

Look in your local library for the following books:

Roberts birds of South Africa. (Trustees of the South African Bird Book Fund) - various editions; descriptions of all southern African birds, including all the weavers of southern Africa

Steyn P. 1996. Nesting Birds. The breeding habits of southern African birds. (Fernwood Press) - fascinating reading about nests and breeding of southern African birds, including a section on southern African weavers

Nearly any other book on southern African birds will have some weaver pictures and text

Look at the following web sites:

Browse these web pages for more information - nearly every week more information and photos are uploaded!

Read up-to-date information about every weaver species here.

Threatened weavers of the world

Weaver videos (IBC)

Would you like a weaver nest to study?
If you have weaver nests near you, you may take a nest under the following conditions:
1. the nest is on the ground because it was broken off by the weavers or by weather
2. the weavers are not breeding, i.e. in winter, but see also next point
3. the nest is a non-breeding nest, i.e. no lining in the chamber. Breeding nests may be used by other birds or animals to roost or breed in, and therefore should not be taken
4. nests may not be taken if you are in a nature reserve (even if it is on the ground)
5. you need permission from the land-owner
You can order a weaver nest for R50 inclusive (additional postage outside South Africa) by emailing Dieter.Oschadleus [at] uct.ac.za; where the nest you receive complies with the above criteria

Has this web been helpful? Email Dieter.Oschadleus [at] uct.ac.za with your comments

logo Contact: H Dieter Oschadleus, weavers4africa [at] gmail.com
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