Is spring on its way?

We see Southern Masked Weavers year-round in our garden. Males change into breeding colours annually, and seeing them in breeding colours is often for us a sign that winter will soon be over. Last week, 17 July, we noticed that some males are already in their breeding colours, while others are in the process of changing.

Male southern masked weavers’ breeding colours include a black face mask. red eyes and bright yellow coloring of the underparts – as per Sasol e-guide.

A male Southern Masked Weaver in fresh breeding plumage.

A Southern Masked Weaver hen starting to line the nest she will lay her eggs in.

In Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds it states that their breeding season, in the arid areas, are dependent on the rainfall and availability of nesting materials. Breeding has been recorded in some areas right through the year, but generally from August to March. Southern Masked Weavers are polygynous and colonial nesters. A male may have up to 3 partners at a time, and as many as 12 during a breeding season! There may be up to 9 males actively breeding in a colony, but most urban colonies have only 1 male. Females make 2 attempts at breeding each year. Each male may build anything up to 25 nests a season!

The breeding colours are known as “nuptial plumage” and non-breeding colours as “eclipse plumage”. In some rare cases, but not in the case of weavers, the female bird changes colours and courts the male – these are called “polyandrous species”.

In some species, the breeding plumage might also have changes in feather length. Think of the tail feathers of Widow Birds, Wydahs or African Paradise Flycatchers.  In some other species the birds change leg, beak or even eye colours. Others, like the Wattled Starling, grow prominent wattles in their breeding season. What a lot of effort to attract a mate.

It may not be spring quite yet, but the weavers are certainly getting ready for it!

A breeding male Wattled Starling with wattles.

References:
  • Carnaby, Trevor                Beat About the Bush – Birds        2008       Jacana Media     Johannesburg        ISBN 978-1-77009-241-9.
  • Hockey, PAR, Dean, WRJ & Ryan, PG        Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VII th Edition     2006       The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund    Cape Town    ISBN 0-620-34053-3.

© Monica & Malcolm D Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text & Photographs) 2019.