Weaver birds, passerines belonging to the family Ploceidae, get their name from the elaborate nests that are woven by many species.
They live in Africa and Asia, in forest, swamps, steppes and savannas. Many weaver birds breed along rivers, lakes and dams, but may move to savannas and steppes outside of breeding season.
Weaver birds range from about 4 ½ to about 10 inches long. Males are often yellow and black, while females tend to be brown and buff-colored. Some males have patches of red or orange. A males' plumage may change color during breeding season.
They are omnivorous, and mostly eat insects and seeds.
Male weaver birds construct their elaborate nests during mating season, using them to attract prospective mates.
Sometimes, after the male has completed the basic structure of the nest and a female has approved it, the female will help him to complete the nest.
Weaver birds use a variety of plant materials to build their nests, including strips of grass, leaves, twigs and roots.
A weaver bird has a strong, conical beak, which it uses to cut blades of grass that it will use in nest-building. The weaver bird can tie real knots in nest material with its beak and its feet. By tying knots, the bird makes the nest more secure.
The nest of a weaver bird often has a narrow tube-like entrance that opens upside down. It is hard for a predator to get inside the nest.
The weaver bird will often build its nest on a tree branch that hangs over the edges of a river. This also helps to protect the nest from predators.
Some weaver birds hang their nests from telephone poles.
The males of many species of weaver bird are polygamous and may build more than one nests during one breeding season.
Some species of weaver bird live in colonies and build hundreds of nests close together. Sometimes several nests will be built on one tree branch.
Sociable weavers (Philetairus socius), sometimes called social weavers, which live in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, do not build individual nests. Instead, all of the males of a colony will work together to build a large, communal nest, which may house as many as 400 birds. A communal nest can fill up an entire tree canopy and may last for 100 years.
The enormous nest is divided into rooms for nesting, feeding and sleeping.
Rooms in the center of the large nest retain heat, so the birds roost in them at night, when it is cold outside. During the day, they cool off in the outer rooms.
Sometimes other bird species will move into sociable weaver nests.
The village weaver (Ploceus cucullatus), which is also known as the black headed weaver or the spotted backed weaver, lives in Africa below the Sahara.
The village weaver's nest is made of leaves, palm fronds, grasses and reeds. It has an entrance on one side.
Village weavers nest in large colonies. They may build so many pear-shaped nests in a single palm tree that from a distance, it looks like a tree full of coconuts.
The black-throated malimbe (Malimbus cassini), also known as Cassin’s malimbe, is a weaver bird that lives in central Africa.
It builds a nest that has a long, narrow neck for an entranceway. The nest is shaped like a jar for distilling liquids. The long, narrow entrance keeps the nest safe from predators.
The baya weaver (Ploceus philippinus) lives in southern Asia. Its nest, made of grass, straw and palm leaves, looks like a flask that has been turned upside down. The central nesting area is at the end of a long tube with a side entrance.
Male baya weavers are promiscuous. Sometimes males will try to attract females by starting to build several nests and then leaving them when they are half-built and look like helmets.
The red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea) is a weaver bird that lives in sub-Saharan Africa.
It can be found in steppes and savannas.
The red-billed quelea is believed to be the most abundant non-domesticated species of bird in the world. It is estimated that there are more than 1.5 billion breeding adults alive today.
Red-billed queleas fly in flocks that may consist of tens of thousands of birds.
They eat grains and seeds, and fly long distances while foraging for food.
Sometimes, red-billed queleas will eat crops grown by humans. The birds will devour the crops the way a plague of locusts would. Local farmers often consider them to be extremely destructive pets.
The nest of a red-billed quelea is shaped like a ball and is made from lengths of grass tied together in complex knots. Nests are hung from tree branches.
One tree may hold thousands of red-billed quelea nests.