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Bird World Part 2

Village Weavers are gregarious birds, nesting in large colonies. They select a tree, sometimes quite close to a village, and load the branches with their beautiful suspended nests until the tree looks as if it is growing strange, exotic fruits. Throughout the year, the colony remains faithful to its original building site, and there is much coming and going as the birds forage for the seeds and insects on which they chiefly live.

Unique among weavers is the Social Weaver Philetairus socius. These birds live up to their name by banding together, sometimes in their hundreds, to builds their amazing communal nests.

As soon as a suitable tree has been chosen, the birds set to work. Their united efforts produce a huge thatched roof of grasses and reeds in the branches, under which the weavers have their own individual nests.

After so much effort, the nest is only used once. By the time the next mating season has arrived, the birds have all moved house. The waterproof roof still stands and so does the rest of the ‘building’ ; the weavers have simply built on a new extension. In time their communal dwelling takes on the appearance of a native hut as, year after year, it increases in size.

Sometimes, however, disaster strikes. The weight of the extensions brings down the tree and the weavers must move on to another, hopefully even stronger, tree.

Our third picture shows yet another kind of weaver, the Golden Weaver Ploceus bojeri, a familiar sight in the villages of East Africa. Not all birds bother to rear their own young and quite a few species deposit their eggs in the nests of another bird, often quite unrelated. The most famous of all these parasites is the cuckoo but, in fact, not all cuckoos behave in the irresponsible manner of the European species; the Northern American species normally rear their own young.

The Dunnock, or Hedge Sparrow, Prunnella modulari, is a common foster parent for the European Cuckoo Cuculus canorus , which will even lay pale blue eggs to match those of the Dunnock. The Cuckoo lays her egg in the nest of a Dunnock, warbler, wagtail or some similar-sized bird (she is over 1 foot (300 mm) long) and removes one of the rightful eggs. Only rarely do the nest-owners notice the change, and incubation proceeds as if nothing had happened. The young Cuckoo normally hatches before the other eggs, and immediately sets about throwing out of the nest any other eggs, and immediately sets about throwing out of the nest any other eggs or youngsters. This is a simple reflex action with is stimulated when any object makes contact with certain parts of the Cuckoo. The young Cuckoo can now receive the undivided attention of its foster parents, and within a very short time will have grown larger than them; it is not uncommon to see the foster parent standing on the Cuckoo’s head in order to cram food down its ever-open gullet.
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Article Added on Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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