The knotty affair of a bird architect

The birding bug bit me in early 2013 and with the addition of a binocular and a birding guide to my workspace, I found myself drifting into a new world. Looking through the eyes of a binocular made me see things I had never observed in a bird’s photo or a naked eye. And, so began my journey in the birdosphere. One amazing bird that has always fascinated me over years is the Baya weaver. On every monsoon, this bird could be seen building a nest in palm trees. However, what captured my heart is its presence of mind to choose a male tree (mostly palm trees) in particular over other trees. Since the male trees don’t bear a fruit, the chances of other birds or animals visiting the tree are limited, hence the male baya weavers choose the trees with least disturbance to build its nest.  At times, they even choose to make nests on thorny trees for additional protection from predators.

Completed and abandoned baya weaver nests on male palm trees. PC – Shaji

The breeding season starts with the arrival of monsoons. The beautiful weaver male shows up with bright yellow and black plaumage upon reaching the breeding conditions (approximately 1.5 years) and starts choosing a protective spot to build a nest. In the birding and animal world, usually the word beauty is more apt for a male rather than a female (of course this definition of beauty doesn’t hold good for humans 😉). With the advent of the nesting season, the male weavers could be seen in action making trips to palm trees or grasslands and looping them to make their nests in colonies of 15 to 20.

Beautiful male baya weaver weaving one thread at a time. PC – Prashanth Krishnan

The sheer ingenuity with which the male baya weaver weaves a nest by looping strands of grass or torn palm leaf/paddy leaves could leave anyone speechless. Each thread stripped and converted to nest is 15 to 60 cms long and on an average, the male weaver is said to make 500+ trips for collecting the grass/palm leaf strands. The joy of birding is allowing nature to take over as we wait patiently for the winged beauties to show up and observe their behaviours. For the benefits of my readers who haven’t had a chance to witness a weaver bird building a nest, below is a beautiful video by Margrit and Russ from Nikela on baya weaver nest building (Video Courtesy – Nikelawildlife):

Sometimes I wonder if the modern Indian matchmaking has been derived from the behaviour of the weaver bird. When a part of the nest (up till helmet stage) is built by the male, the female weaver inspects the nest and approves for mating only if its satisfactory for her. The female weaver checks if the nest is built on a thick branch to withstand the winds, whether it is at a certain height from ground to protect the nest from snakes, whether the nest is built to be waterproof and heat resistant, if the side entrance (a fake entrance to mislead the predators) doesn’t lead to the main chamber of the nest, if the nest is strong enough to withstand the weight of eggs.. and a long list of checks before the female agrees to mating and gives a green signal to complete the nest. How these tiny brains pick up these building techniques and nesting rituals are some top unanswered questions that researchers have been working on.

Inspector madam on site – Female baya weaver inspecting a nest. PC – Prashanth Krishnan

At a time when our TV channels continue to flash breaking news of concrete homes collapsing to heavy rains, I fall short of words when I see these tiny birds knotting grass and palm leaf strands to make one of the strongest and the leak proof homes with basic security features. Following a rampant decline in the weaver bear population, BNHS initiated an annual bird count (in June 2016) to record and report the sightings of this bird, assess their numbers and study the reason behind their receding numbers. Due to human intervention, this once common species is going through a population decline and have been pushed to a stage of being rarely spotted. It’s in the hands of our generation now to preserve this bird with excellent nest weaving skills for the future generations to witness the beauty of weaving a natural home and narrate their experiences for generations to come.

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