Monstrous Sociable Weavers' Nests
Examples of Sociable Weavers Living Alongside Humans
What are Sociable Weavers?
Sociable Weavers are song birds that live in South Africa in and near the Kalahari Desert. They live in gargantuan communal nests, which is how they got their name. However, their nests are not woven.
There is a shortage of food for miles and miles around the sociable weavers’ habitat (primarily desert) and for that reason they do not usually begin breeding until they are two years old. Seeds and insects are their preferred food and they love termites.
University of Cape Town researchers believed lack of food was the reason the sociable weavers waited so long to breed, and so they did an experiment to determine if they were correct. They spread birdseed out lavishly for several months, and as a result the birds began breeding after only a year instead of waiting for two years as had been their habit (Scientific American). Most song birds breed before they are a year old.
The monstrous nests made from twigs, grasses, cotton, fur, and other items common to the area, include several generations, some 300 to 400 birds. They are lined with feathers and soft plant materials, and are often as wide as twenty-five feet and as tall as ten feet high! (Huffington Post)
All of the birds, regardless of their generation, work together to build and maintain the nest, and that is very labor intensive since the nest requires constant attention. All the generations of birds, not just the parent couple(s), also work together to raise the babies — it takes a village, or a commune in this case.
Sociable Weavers Leaving Their Nests
Sociable Weavers are Sparrow-Like Song Birds
A Few Facts About Sociable Weavers
Sociable weavers get most of their water from the food they eat. They rarely drink water.
The young birds are self reliant at just over two weeks of age — 16 days, but generally remain in the nest along with the hundreds of other birds and make themselves useful working to maintain the nest and helping to raise their parent’s next brood.
In an effort to compromise with humans, sociable weavers often build their haystack looking nests on top of, and around telephone poles.
Some species of lovebirds and finches reproduce inside the nests of sociable weavers. Large birds such as owls and vultures build their own nests on the roof of the sociable weavers' nest.
The sociable weaver’s nests can weigh a ton or more, especially after it has rained and they have soaked up a lot of water.
Natural Enemies of Sociable Weavers
Extreme Environmental Conditions
Some weaves' nests have been known to last as long as a hundred years! However, it was noted that when food was plentiful, fewer of the birds hung around the nest, and so fewer of them tended to the maintenance of the nest.
The brutal heat of the day can turn very chilly at night in the desert. The nests are well insulated from both the heat in the daytime and the cold at night. Temperatures can easily fluctuate 45 degrees or more from the coldest at night to the hottest during the day in the weavers’ habitat.
An average daytime temperature in the Kalahari Desert where most of these birds reside, is 113 degrees Fahrenheit ( Wikipedia). Summer is when any rain is received and storms can often be violent (World wildlife.Org). Night temperatures during the cooler season can go as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (Audubon).
The sociable weavers’ habitat changes very little, remaining hot and dry all the time regardless of the season so that there is no need for the birds to migrate as many other birds do.
The weavers primary enemy is the snake. Hannah Waters writing for Scientific American reports that 70 per cent of baby sociable weavers end up killed and eaten by snakes — mostly boomslangs (large venomous tree snakes) and Cape cobras. Black Mambas, baboons, rats or genets favor the chicks for a snack also (Africa Geographic).
It seems that once the birds begin breeding, that is their primary occupation. They lay 2 to 6 eggs anywhere from 4 to 9 times a year. These birds, members of the sparrow family, can live for up to 10 years. Despite severe storms in summer and snakes all of the time, the biggest threat to the weavers is overgrazing and logging.
Interesting birds, weavers have the largest nests of any birds in the world. When I first saw a photo of the nests in the trees I thought the trees must have some sort of terrible disease or an infestation of some sort. What a surprise to discover all those huge haystack looking things in the trees were nests for little song birds!
More About Birds from C. E. Clark
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Sociable Weaver Facts
World Wildlife Org.