SEED-SNATCHING AND NEST-BUILDING: THE SECRET LIFE OF RED-BILLED QUELEAS

Among the many bird species that call Western Cape home is the small red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea), found in large flocks throughout Africa. While their massive communities and seed-eating habits can cause damage to crops, their small size, intricate nests, and adaptability to a wide range of habitats make them remarkable species to observe and study.

Red-billed queleas are primarily granivorous, meaning they feed on seeds. They are particularly fond of grass seeds and can cause significant damage to agricultural fields. As a result, therefore being known as the ‘feathered locust.’

During the breeding season, male red-billed queleas build elaborate nests out of grass and other materials. These nests can be quite intricate and may take several days to construct.

The red-billed quelea is a sparrow-sized bird around 12cm long, with a cone-shaped, seed-eater bill. The red-billed quelea is a bird with various colourings. The male red-billed quelea in breeding colours has a face mask that varies from black to white, while the female red-billed quelea has a grey to brown head, a whitish chin and throat, and some birds have a slight stripe above the eye.

While not known for their melodious singing, red-billed queleas have a repertoire of calls and vocalisations. These include a harsh, buzzing call used to communicate with other members of the flock and a softer, more musical call used during courtship displays.

The red-billed quelea is the most abundant bird species on earth and is found in a wide variety of habitats, from grasslands and savannas to agricultural fields and urban areas. They are also common in areas with abundant water sources, often found near water features and irrigation systems.

DID YOU KNOW?

Red-billed queleas are known for their nomadic nature and can travel long distances in search of food and suitable habitats. Some flocks have been known to travel over 3000 km in a year.

In Afrikaans they are called rooibekkweleas.