When it comes to nest architecture, one bird is so adept at weaving intricate and sturdy structures that they are named after this ability – the Weavers.
The neatly woven grass and reed nests of the southern masked weaver are a common sight dangling like Christmas baubles from trees all over South Africa, even in suburbia. The male weaver is responsible for the construction of the nest, building as many as 25 a season, before one meets with his mate’s approval. The female signals her preference by lining one of the nests with soft grass and feathers before laying her eggs, while the rest are abandoned.
African Jacanas go to the other extreme. In this case the female builds the nest, which is little more than a floating pile of vegetation. Female jacanas are polygamous and leave their beaus to care for the eggs once they have deposited them on this fragile raft. As these flimsy creations are known for sinking in the middle of raising their family, the male jacana has developed the ability to pick the chicks up under its wings at a moment’s notice and carry them to safety.
The African Fish Eagle also builds a raft-like nest, although this is far sturdier, consisting of large piles of sticks lodged securely in the fork of a tree, near or over water. Both male and female fish eagles participate equally in nest construction and care of the chicks.
Likewise, the Hamerkop, favours a roosting spot in the trees, and constructs an enormous platform consisting of up to 10 000 twigs, lined with mud for insulation and waterproofing. They may build as many as four nests every year in this way, with each nest taking several weeks to complete.
All members of the Woodpecker family are well known for chiselling their nests out of the bark of trees, which can take years in some cases. You can sometimes hear the tap, tap, tap of a woodpecker at work in a nearby tree while resting in camp.
When the woodpeckers move out, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills take occupation of their nests, with the female sealing herself up in the hole behind a wall of mud and faeces to deter predators. The male then assumes responsibility for feeding the female and her offspring through a small slit in this wall.
Ask your ranger to point out these and other fascinating African bird’s nests while out on a drive, or game walk.