Bird of the Year 2016 – Sociable Weaver

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The Sociable Weaver is an icon of southern Africa’s arid zones. They are small birds with big personalities, and a complex social life, living in colonies that can be hundreds strong.

Measuring around 14 cm in length, the Sociable Weaver has a black chin, black barred flanks and a scalloped back. The sexes are indistinguishable.

The Sociable Weaver’s range is centred within the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, and it is strongly associated with the arid savannahs characteristic of the southern Kalahari region.

In an ecological sense, Sociable Weavers are more than just birds, they are ecosystem engineers. Colonies cooperate to build the largest nests of any bird in the world. These nests are perhaps the most spectacular structures built by any bird. These iconic structures provide shelter for not only the weavers themselves, but many other species of small birds, including Black-cheeked Waxbills, Acacia Pied Barbets and others that can be found roosting in the nest chambers at night.

The Sociable Weaver is insectivorous, with insects comprising 80% of their diet. As an adaptation to living in the dry Kalahari Desert, where water is scarce, they obtain their water from the insects they feed on, although they will also drink water from stock troughs and farm dams when it is available. They also feed on seeds and other plant products, foraging predominantly on the ground, but also on bark and leaves of trees.

In spite of living in such a challenging environment, Sociable Weavers are one of the most common species wherever they occur. With the recent availability of man-made structures like telephone and electricity poles, the weavers have even expanded their distribution range to some areas of the northern Nama-Karoo, where they couldn’t nest in the past due to the lack of trees.

 

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