Image: Andreas Fucke
There is no such thing as equality amongst the two to three hundred known species of Ploceidae, or weaver birds. Though found across Asia and in Australia, it is in East African countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia that the widest diversity of these birds is found, and also where the artistic ability for which they are known becomes most pronounced. Ploceidae are a varied family, and count among their number the most abundant bird species on Earth. But regardless of species, one thing remains constant among the weaver birds: it is only the male who does the work.
Image: Doug Butcher
As in many species, the males can be told from the females by their beautiful plumage – often a striking yellow or red but sometimes black. But it is clear that in this case, plumage is not enough to secure a mate. For on top of this, the males of each colony must compete each year in a test of skill and creativity which has made them famous: the weaving of the most elaborate nests of any known bird. Many species go about this in unique ways, and many use different materials. The buffalo-weaver of Kenya and Tanzania constructs raggedy nests of twigs while the Indian weaver bird constructs a tidy, tight-fitting mesh of roots and tendrils in a remarkable globe-and-tube shape.
Image: Phil Strange
As soon as mating season appears on the horizon, every male weaver bird that answers ‘the call’ begins to behave more like a labourer than a casanova, and they begin to construct nests in the hope of attracting the favour of some fickle female. But there’s no rest for the wicked: they will hedge their bets by continuing to construct nests as long as there’s somewhere appropriate to place them. Often this will involve building on a tree branch overhanging a river – a spot unlikely to be accessible to most predators. This frequently results in branches sagging from this heavy burden, as some species of weaver birds are known to build nests in groups of up to 300.