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Weaver Wednesday [55]: Jackson's Widowbird

2013-07-03 (385)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday

Jackson's Widowbird

The Jackson's Widowbird Euplectes jacksoni is restricted to the highland grassland in East Africa. The male in breeding plumage is black with a decurved tail of broad feathers, a tawny epaulet, and a pale bill. Non-breeding birds have an orange underwing - this is dark in Long-tailed E. progne and Hartlaub's Marsh E. hartlaubi Widowbirds. The female Jackson's Widowbird is brownish overall, pale buff to orange-buff below, with a heavy bill. Jackson's Widowbird map

The Jackson's Widowbird occurs in Kenya and northern Tanzania, with no subspecies recognised (see map below, based on Birds of Africa). It is locally common, but considered near threatened, since it's habitat is increasingly fragmented by agricultural development.

The Jackson's Widowbird inhabits open grassland at 1500-3000m. It is always gregarious, and forages in mixed flocks even when males are in breeding plumage. It feeds on grass seeds, particularly Themeda triandra, and also Panicum species. Large flocks may damage crops in rural smallholdings. It eats termite alates which are hawked in flight.

Jackson's Widowbird

The Jackson's Widowbird is unique in the weaver family in having a lekking mating system. Males are solitary, polygynous and highly territorial. Males display at dancing rings which are circles of flattened grass around a central tuft of grass. Each male owns 2-3 dancing rings, and they trim and shape their tufts. Males display from mid-morning to late afternoon and then leave their territories to feed. When dancing, a male stands on his ring facing the central tuft and jumps energetically to various heights from a few cm to almost 1m (see YouTuube video below). A female flying over or watching from the grass nearby may then approach him.

Once a female has chosen a male to mate with, she builds a nest by herself. The nest is a domed ball of woven grass with a side entrance, with living grass bent down over it to form a bower. The nest is lined with grass seedheads. It is placed within 10cm of the ground in any grass tuft tha is about 50 cm tall. Nests may be clustered, with >20 in a small area. The nest site is placed outside the male's lek area, but within 300 m of it. The female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks with no help from the male. Chicks are fed on regurgitated grass seeds.

The Jackson's Widowbird has no PHOWN records yet. Submit PHOWN records of male lek sites or of nests built by females (see PHOWN summary). Submit any weaver nest records to PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) via the Virtual Museum upload site.

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Display of male Jackson's Widowbird in Masai Mara, Kenya, from YouTube