Birds With a Propensity for Weaving!!

You are sitting in your aviary watching the inhabitants interacting in their "normal" manner - that is if you call denizens of the South Americas, Europeans and true Aussies all munching contentedly around the same bowl of Dandelion heads together "normal"!!
There is a minor disturbance which causes birds to scatter in all directions and a flash of red and black suddenly 'floats' into view. This 'disturbance' appears like a demented bumble bee, a vision in red and black floating around the trees puffed up to twice its normal size!
"It" is none other than the Grenadier weaver, or Red Bishop Euplectes orix, a member of the weaver finches that hails from Africa and is still a common sight in many Aussie aviaries.

For the uninitiated the weaver finches are a large family of birds that have, unfortunately, no relatives naturally occurring in Australia yet are well represented in Asia and Africa. Of this family we have a few survivors hanging on in Australia - these are the Red Bishop, the Orange Bishop, the Napoleon, the Comoro and the Madagascar weavers - or Fodies as they are sometimes known.
Unfortunately the latter two have been heavily hybridised and pure examples of each can be difficult to obtain at times.

Of these species the Red & Orange Bishop and the Napoleon weavers are the ones that weave the elaborate nests so common in nature documentaries!!

I have had the most experience with the Red Bishop while a good friend has had success with the Napoleon weaver - the Orange Bishop has eluded both of us with our dry spring and summers of recent times not to this species liking!!
All three tend to link their breeding to the advent of rainfall with the Orange Bishop seemingly totally dependant upon it here, while the Red Bishop comes in a close second with the Napoleon weaver appearing to be the least dependant of the three.

In case you feel I exaggerate I shall give you two examples. We had Orange Bishops ready to breed - hen squatting, cock calling and slapping his wings together - a sudden downpour was what they must have been waiting for and nest construction began immediately with the male actively chasing the hen through the foliage. However, the downpour was short lived and ceased after one hour and with the cessation of rain came a stop to his breeding ardour as well!! The next day he systematically destroyed the half built nest he'd woven!

The summer 2006-7 was also a very dry one down here and then the weatherman predicted some 'serious' rain over the long weekend down here. Each day started with overcast conditions which 'promised' rain and the Red Bishops reacted accordingly with their hissing and screeching starting for the first time all season. Nests went up in record time - some in a few hours - and hens were carting cotton wool to these half-built gems at the same time that they were being built. Early the next day eggs could be seen through the bottom of the nests and by lunchtime the nests were thickened and ready to go. Two days later and still overcast skies yet no rain - yep, you guessed it next day was bright sunshine and the weavers tore all the nests to pieces including the ones full of eggs! Who'd keep finches!!!!

This gives you some idea of the dependence of these two species on precipitation!! Perhaps their logic follows that if there is no rain there is no grass growth and if no grass growth then there will subsequently be no insects with which to feed their youngsters on. Who knows? It works for us!

Madagascar Weavers Weaver Aviary. In the Holding Cage!

In the Aviary:
I'll stick here to the Red Bishop as I've had a long relationship with these guys. For around 7 months of the year both sexes resemble the humble House sparrow and are an inconspicuous member of the aviary community with both males and females in close proximity. However, with the onset of spring and the promise of rain (!!) the dull drab plumage is shed by the male to be replaced by his nuptial plumage of red and black and your aviary resounds to the hiss and cackle of a 'man on a mission'! No longer will the females venture too near the male for fear of his 'amorous ardour' being directed at her!
Once a suitable tree has been selected the males will start to weave a number of rings which he hopes will appeal to one of the gals. However, in order to show these rings to best effect he strips the area around his nest to the detriment of any foliage in the way - from our experience the Orange Bishop does not do this to any great degree nor does the Napoleon and in their case the nest is often well hidden.
For this reason we recommend the humble Genista bush for the weaver aviary as it can take any punishment the weavers can dish out and still keep coming back year after year. I strongly advise against planting expensive Bamboos as they will look magnificent for about 5 minutes into the breeding season - yes, I speak through experience when I was young and silly(er!).

Once the hen has selected her perfect ring the male goes into overdrive to complete it after which the hen will line it with cotton wool or fine swamp grass - despite popular belief the male has also been seen participating in nest lining.
On completion of the nest the hen will lay between 2 and 4 pale blue eggs in it - same colour in the Orange Bishop and white in the Napoleon.
Incubation is around 15 days and the chicks are in the nest for around 20-22 days before fledging and it is a period of intense activity for the hen in finding enough insects to keep her hungry brood well-fed. Small spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, small praying mantis, mealworms and maggots are fed to our birds.
A regular supply of insects is essential for rearing chicks and any interruption will result in the chicks being thrown on the floor.
Some pairs eat green food while others show little interest in it but we always have cucumber available to all pairs.
The nest may be reused - despite what many believe - and it is not uncommon to have one relined and ready for another clutch from time to time.

Generally a new one is built but it is no hard and fast rule!

When the young leave the nest it is also easy to sex them as the male has very large legs in comparison to the female. This method is apparently not as reliable for the Napoleon weaver and we'll let you know about the Orange Bishop - one day!!!

Here there is another well accepted fallacy that it takes the cock Grennies two years to reach adult nuptial plumage. Over the years you will find some will colour one year after fledging and this year I had two cocks do it in different aviaries. However, none of the ones that exhibited this ever actually bred until they were two years old. Remember I once said the words "always and never" should be stricken from the bird keeper's vocab!!

The weaving of these structures is a joy to watch and once you have witnessed it you will always have these guys in your collections! The Grenny is possibly the least fussy of the weavers using most green and even dried grasses to build from - favourites at home are any of the Pennisetum family of grasses and Poa billardieria or tussock grass - both green and growing - and have even seen them made from November grass!
The Orange Bishop appears to be far fussier and a mainland source suggested Cocos palms, Arecastrum romanzoffianum, were the way to go and these are certainly attacked with vigour - as to actual nests we'll let you know!!
The Napoleon uses the Pennisetum family of grasses but shows little interest in Tussock grasses.

Red Bishop Nest. Napoleon Nest.

The weaver family is simplicity itself to feed and outside the breeding season they exist quite happily on any basic finch mix and often show little interest in live food. Green seeding heads are appreciated but many refuse soft foods and other supplements. Some will eat Lebanese or Continental cucumber while others ignore it - no hard and fast rule.
A constant supply of live food is essential if chicks are to be reared.

The Madagascar and Comoro have a well-founded reputation for aggression as these two examples may point out.
I once purchased a trio of Madagascars to help foster my Grennies one season as I had heard that this was the way to go. However, once in the aviary the cock Maddy took over and would not let any other finches out of the shelter unless he felt like a feed that was when there would be a major commotion as he hounded them out into the open flight!
What of the two hen Maddies you ask? They were both hiding in the corner along with the rest of the Grenadier family!! A dismal failure that "plan"!

Scenario two was when a mate asked me to take back a pair of Green Singers I had loaned to him because they were to aggressive and had killed a Turquoisine parrot!! One odd thing he did say was that the Singers were nesting in a parrot nest box!
Turned out they were sharing the cage with a family of 8 Maddies (2 parents and their young) and one morning he went out to find another parrot dead plus all of the young Maddies with the father in the process of dispatching the last one of his offspring - the Singers remained firmly ensconced in their nest box!

Yellow Form Red Bishop. Red Bishop in the Aviary. "Proper" Red Bishop.

From these fellows to the Grenny is a no contest. Despite their large size these weavers tend to be real push over's and I have never seen them threaten or harm another finch.
The Orange-breasted waxbill is the smallest finch in our aviaries and loves to nest in old Grenny nests. However, I did once see a belligerent pair take over the recently constructed nest of a male weaver much to his annoyance! Once the Grenny worked out that these two tiny interlopers were not going to vacate his new nest you could see him mentally shrug his wings and he simply began weaving another nest away from these brightly coloured squatters - vicious these OB's!!!
I have also seen a male almost killed by a cock Cuban finch - no huge surprise there I guess!!

My mate relates one of his top weaver stories when he placed a cock Red and a cock Orange Bishop in his holding aviary which appeared to be 'run' by a male Rufous-backed manikin. The Rufous-back raced up to the Grenny and gave it a good peck and watched as it retreated to a neutral corner to sulk- strike one! However, he made the fatal mistake of sidling up to the Orange Bishop to repeat the dose whereupon the weaver simply turned around and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and shook it with feather flying in all directions - a new king was crowned!
From our limited experience we would suggest that the Orange Bishop in breeding condition may be a tad boisterous for many of the smaller finches in a colony situation. Guess it also depends upon the size of the aviary too and the number of trees for them to hide in!!!
The Napoleon I have witnessed for myself around breeding time! I watched as a cock bird selected the hen of his lascivious desires and set about "courting" her. He simply chased her around the aviary and up and down the perches scattering any unfortunate finch that happened to get in his way. Linger too long and he'd flick you off the perch, get between him and the hen and he'd flick you of the short there were some very nervous Diamond sparrows in that aviary!!
The aggression appeared not to be directed at any finches in a malicious way (unlike some Maddies/Comoros which commonly kill other species) and was confined to breeding season alone.

Cock Napoleon Front. Cock Napoleon Back. In The Aviary.

As a tough, easy to cater for species the weaver family deserves a second look if you are looking for that something other than grassfinch-like-behaviour for your next aviary.

Although the rarer members, the Orange Bishop and the Napoleon, still command high prices the Grenadier is now freely available and is a firm favourite of mine. Remember to factor in their propensity for live food when feeding young before purchasing a pair as their habit of turfing youngsters can get a little frustrating - maybe a look at last issue of Aviary Life and the cricket set-up might set you in great stead.
Tough, easy to feed and hardy in most Australian climatic conditions makes this species a great step up to the next tier of finch keeping. Their display alone is worth their purchase price!
However, if it is the Madagascar weaver that you crave might I be so bold as to suggest a separate aviary as these guys appear to have little in the way of a sense of humour!!!