Our garden: baskets in the trees

Your head is a living forest
full of song birds.

e.e. cummings

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

During the last several months, a colony of weaver birds has been living in a pair of tall trees at the end of the front terrace.

Now I am not much of a birdwatcher, but I do love baskets.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Attach some handles, and we have got the beginnings of a small income-producing cooperative.

I estimate that they built two to three dozen nests, mostly in the tree on the left below.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

I  haven’t seen the birds for a few weeks, so they may have moved on.  The ones I noticed earlier looked like large brown sparrows — which some experts put in the same bird family of Ploceidae.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

However, I may have been seeing only the females.  Most Ploceus weavers “display a strong sexual dimorphism,” according to the Bradt guide book for Rwanda: the females are brown, and the males are often predominately yellow and can have a black facial mask.  I have seen yellow birds like that around the garden, but I hadn’t connected them with the nest-building group.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

According to the guide book, 21 of the 101 African weaver species live in Rwanda.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Several of the nests have fallen, so I’ve been able to get a better look at the weaving.  I found this one, in the photos above and below, just yesterday.

According to the Bradt* guide book,

[i]t can be fascinating to watch a male weaver at work. First, a nest site is chosen, usually at the end of a thin hanging branch or frond, which is immediately stripped of leaves to protect against snakes. The weaver then flies back and forth to the site, carrying the building material blade by blade in its heavy beak, first using a few thick strands to hang a skeletal nest from the end of a branch, then gradually completing the structure by interweaving numerous thinner blades of grass into the main frame. Once completed, the nest is subjected to the attention of his chosen partner, who will tear it apart if the result is less than satisfactory, and so the process starts all over again.

The first photo at the top of this post shows a part of a nest in the lower left side.  It may have been a victim of one episode of this “Nest Hunters Rwanda.”

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Above: a closer look at the weaving around the entrance hole — which I have seen placed anywhere along the side of the nest, from near the top to almost at the bottom.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

I took the photos of this fallen nest, above and below, a few weeks ago.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Looking in the entrance hole above, it looks like there is a partial internal basket as well (you can see the top just right of center of the picture; the nest is on its side).

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Above: I pulled this one apart — which was not easy — to see how many of my garden plants I could identify.  I see pine needles, some acacia tree leaves, and lemongrass.  They may have also pulled strips off the leaves of the traveler’s palms and the heliconias.

About the same time, two hawk-like birds built a very large, but more conventional, nest in one of the same two trees.  The pair are brown and have an almost 3′ wingspan (and evidently don’t eat weaver birds).

Hawks' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

See the strip of white cloth woven through the side of the nest in the photo above?  For a couple of months, I’ve been finding all kinds of trash near the foot of this tree.  It was a really annoying mystery until I spotted the nest and realized that the birds must weave in bits of cloth, plastic, and paper.

I haven’t seen the couple in a few days, but yesterday, I saw a smaller version of them on another tree in the garden. [August addendum:  They’re still there, but no sign of young ones.]

April 17, 2014:  The weaver birds are back; more here.

Birds were the original architects, creating fantastic and extreme examples of blobitecture and parametric design long before any architecture critic labeled these styles. They are also summa cum laude engineers, able to transform cheap, insubstantial building materials into the most durable and cozy of homes.

— Chee Pearlman, in “Twigitecture,” The New York Times


*Rwanda, The Bradt Travel Guide, by Philip Briggs and Janice Booth.  And I have decided that I really need to order the Princeton Field Guides’ The Birds of East Africa.

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11 thoughts on “Our garden: baskets in the trees

  1. Wow, those are beautiful. I just can’t believe they were made by a bird! I’ll have to send this link to my friend Sally who is an amazing birder!:)

  2. Hi Dee, Susie, and Mara: Aren’t they great? I’m thinking about ways to display them in the house as they fall to the ground.

    I noticed that the hawks have at least two more big pieces of cloth handing off their abandoned nest. I’m not looking forward to that coming down.

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