Fight to the finish
One fine September weekend, we went to Uran, Maharashtra, to shoot some common birds. The day started with lovely sightings of the Plain Prinia eating some caterpillars in the lane opposite the police station. We also saw some Black-headed Munias, Common Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks, flocks of egrets, Common Sandpipers, and Ashy Prinias doing their early morning chores. The light was dull and the day cloudy. We thought that a drive to the nearest village should yield us some opportunities to photograph the Cinnamon Bittern which had been sighted in that area for the past few weeks. On the way, we saw some Baya Weavers (Ploceus philippinus) by the left side of the road building nests. We stopped to observe them. The males were in full breeding plumage, looking very handsome with their striking yellow headgear. They were working tirelessly at tearing away strips of fresh grass leaves and coming back to build their nests. Baya Weavers are generally known to be very peaceful birds, but the cacophony they produced with their constant ‘chit-chit’ and ‘cheeee-eee-eee’ was music to our ears. Female Bayas were scouting each nest, persuaded by males hoping for a positive feedback. And then, at one particular nest, all hell broke loose. One female wanting to scout the nest tried to enter. She was followed by another particularly aggressive female who hung on to her and refused to let go. The male also followed, possibly in a bid to break up the fight, as he hung onto the second female. The drama continued, with the warring females trying to snap at each other, and the male desperate.
Baya Weavers are generally known to be very peaceful birds, but the cacophony they produced with their constant ‘chit-chit’ and ‘cheeee-eeeeee’ was music to our ears. Female Bayas were scouting each nest, persuaded by males, who were hoping for a positive feedback from them.
This is possibly a common occurrence, but it was a rare capture for me. The drama did throw up a lot of questions (which Saevus has tried to answer here):
What exactly was happening at this nest site?
Seems like a heated cat-fight at best. Baya or other weavers are polygamous and the courtship behaviour entails the male constructing many half nests along a selected site, and then call in prospective females to inspect and approve of his good craftsmanship and also his advances for mating. Once a female approves the location and structure of the nest, the male will complete the remaining nest, mate with the female and start his family.
If both the females were competing for the same nest, what is normally the end result?
Male weaver birds build many half nests and there is every likelihood that multiple females will approve of multiple half-made homes. But in this case, the male’s luck seems to have run for some extra miles and ended up being so good that he did land himself two prospective mates, but both wanting to start the family in that same nest. Which, at best, is an unlikely thing to happen. Twice, in this case, was not as nice!
Is it possible that one of the females had already laid its eggs in the nest and was, therefore, trying to defend the nest from the intruder?
Unlikely. The nest has to be completed before the female lays eggs.
The fight broke up in about a minute but we waited for around 20 minutes to check the aftermath of the drama. The male did return a couple of times with fresh strips of grass, but no females turned up during that time.
Text and images: Rakesh Dhareshwar
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