Ploceidae


                 


Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri (Oscines)
Family: Ploceidae

Thumbnail description
Small to medium-sized passerine birds; bill
conical or pointed; plumage plain yellow or
black, or these colors in combination with red,
brown, or orange, or else sparrowy brown; often
there is a seasonal change in plumage, which
may include development of greatly elongated
tail-feathers; many species highly social,
occurring in large flocks


                        


Size
4.3–10 in, up to 28 in with elongated tail
(11–25 up to 70 cm); 0.3–2.3 oz (9–65 g)

Number of genera, species
19 genera; 135 species

Habitat
Forest, woodland, swamps, savanna, semi-arid
regions

Conservation status
Critically Endangered: 1 species; Endangered: 6
species; Vulnerable: 7 species; Near
Threatened: 3 species; Data Deficient: 2 species

Distribution
Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabian Peninsula, South and Southeast Asia, Madagascar,Mauritius, Réunion, Comoros, Seychelles.

                   


The Ploceidae, or weavers, are small passerine birds related to the finches.These are seed-eating birds with rounded conical bills, most of which are from Sub-Saharan Africa, with fewer species in tropical Asia. A few species have been introduced outside their native range.The weaver group is divided into the buffalo, sparrow, typical, and widow weavers. The males of many species are brightly coloured, usually in red or yellow and black, some species show variation in colour only in the breeding season.


Weaver birds, also known as weaver finches, get their name
 because of their elaborately woven nests (the most elaborate of any birds'), though some are notable for their selective parasitic nesting habits. The nests vary in size, shape, material used, and construction techniques from species to species. Materials used for building nests include fine leaf-fibers, grass, and twigs. Many species weave very fine nests using thin strands of leaf fiber, though some, like the buffalo-weavers, form massive untidy stick nests in their colonies, which may have spherical woven nests within. 
                                       
                                     
The sparrow weavers of Africa build apartment-house nests, in which 100 to 300 pairs have separate flask-shaped chambers entered by tubes at the bottom. Most species weave nests that have narrow entrances, facing downward.


Physical characteristics
The weavers have no defining physical characteristics which are shared by all or even most members of the family.
The sexes may be virtually indistinguishable, even in the hand,
or highly dimorphic. Tails can be short or extravagantly long.
The bill is always straight, not curved, but varies from short
and heavy to longer and quite slender. At the sub-family level,
there is more consistency. Buffalo weavers are either mainly
black or mainly white, with heavy seed-eater bills. 

                         

Sparrowweavers are all “sparrowy” brown in appearance, with some black or white plumage areas. There is no obvious seasonal plumage change in either of these groups, and little sexual dimorphism, although males are usually larger. Within the parasitic Viduinae, there is marked sexual dimorphism in plumage during the breeding season, after which males molt into a plumage which resembles that of the females. They can usually be disinguished from other small seed-eating birds by black stripes on the crown of the head. Male indigobirds are blackish, with pale or reddish bill and legs, in varying combinations. 

                                

Male whydahs have mainly black or black-andwhite breeding plumage with very long central tail feathers, which may be either narrow or broadened. The male cuckoo finch is canary-yellow in breeding plumage. Among the Ploceinae, there are conspicuous differences between genera. Males are almost always larger than females, while sexual dimorphism in plumage is especially marked in polygynous species. However, even in dimorphic species, the males do not always have a seasonal plumage change. Eye color often changes with age from brown to red, yellowish, or creamy; in many cases only males have a distinctively colored eye. The bill color of male birds may change seasonally from brown to black, in response to increased levels of male sex hormones. The genus Malimbus is remarkably uniform. 

                        

All species are predominantly black with some red, or in one case yellow, plumage; males and females differ in plumage, and juvenile birds have a distinctive plumage, different to both adults. There is no seasonal change in plumage. In contrast the open-country bishops and widows (Euplectes) all have sparrowy brown females, while males molt into a breeding
plumage which is wholly or partly black, with either red or
orange to yellow areas, and in some cases a long, black tail.
Young birds resemble females, and males do not usually acquire
breeding plumage until at least their second year. The large genus Ploceus includes species that are sexually dimorphic with or without a seasonal change in plumage, and species in which the sexes are identical. Black and/or yellow are the predominant plumage colors in males, with some green, brown, or orange, but never red, feathers.

Distribution
Weavers occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where all sub families are represented. Only two genera of Ploceinae are found outside Africa; the fodies (Foudia) which are endemic to Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands, and Ploceus with two species on Madagascar and five in Asia. One East African species, Rüppell’s weaver (Ploceus galbula), also occurs on the Arabian peninsula.

                                      

 Several species are commonly exported as cage birds, and escapes or deliberate releases have led to their establishment, sometimes temporary, in other regions, including Australia, California, Portugal, Hawaii, St. Helena, and some islands in the West Indies. An Asian species, the streaked weaver (Ploceus manyar), is now established in the Nile delta in Egypt, and is believed to have escaped from Alexandria Zoo.

Habitat
Many weavers are associated with water, since they breed
in wetlands, along rivers, dams, and lakes, nesting in reeds or
other waterside vegetation. However, in these cases they often
move to grassland or savanna during the non-breeding
season. Several species may breed in wetlands, but also in trees
far from open water, and have adapted well to man-modified
habitats such as farmland. 

                              

Only members of the sparrowweavers

and buffalo weavers are permanent residents of arid and semi-arid areas. Some species are exclusively forest birds, either in lowland or montane evergreen forest, and may spend much of their time in the canopy 100 ft (30 m) above the ground. 
                    
                        

All members of the genus Malimbus are strictly forest inhabitants.

Behavior
Although many species of weavers move about extensively
during the dry season, these are local movements rather than
predictable, long-distance migration. The red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea) does carry out predictable movements in many
regions, and these seem to be correlated with rainfall patterns.
This appears to be the only species that could qualify as a migrant
throughout its range. Although they may have a wide range of different calls, few weavers would be considered “songbirds” in the conventional sense. The songs that male weavers use to advertise their territories are often a harsh, repetitive chatter with no tuneful, musical notes. Some forest species do sing short phrases, sometimes as duets, which are more attractive to our ears.
The parasitic indigobirds learn elements of the song of their
host species while in the nest, and later incorporate these into the songs which they use in courtship.

Feeding ecology and diet
Categorizing weavers as insectivorous or granivorous is misleading. All species will take insects when they are available,
and the young are often fed primarily insects, especially in the first days after hatching. There is frequently a seasonal change in diet, with seeds the main or even the only food source in the dry season, and insects more important in the rainy season. The heavy bill of the grosbeak weaver (Amblyospiza albifrons) enables the birds to open sunflower seeds, but they have also been seen to catch small frogs. Small lizards are on the menu of several other species in the wild. Fruit an berries are eaten readily, and nectar from plants such as Aloe and Erythrina. Here weavers are messy feeders, often eating the whole flower and stripping the plants, leaving with their faces caked with pollen. The Cape weaver (Ploceus capensis) is probably the main pollinating agent for the endemic South African crane flower Strelitzia regina.

Conservation status
BirdLife International has produced a review of globally
threatened birds, and an account of the Important Bird Areas
of Africa. The major threat to weaver species is habitat loss,
since some of them have very restricted ranges. Three island
fodies are threatened both by habitat loss and introduced
predators on Mauritius, Seychelles, and Rodrigues, respectively.
Foudia rubra may be Critically Endangered, whereas F. sechellarum and F.


                            


 flavicans are currently regarded as Vulnerable.The Asian yellow weaver (Ploceus megarhynchus) is a

grassland species with a restricted range in India. Although the Asian golden weaver (Ploceus hypoxanthus) occurs in several
countries, it is uncommon and regarded as Near Threatened.
On mainland Africa, the golden-naped weaver (P. aureonucha)
and the yellow-footed weaver (P. flavipes) are both
known only from the Ituri Forest, and have been seen just a
few times in the last 30 years. Their canopy habitat and the
political problems in this region make it difficult to obtain accurate information. Four localized species in West Africa,
Bannerman’s weaver (P. bannermani), Bates’s weaver (P.
batesi), the Gola malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni) and the Ibadan
malimbe (M. ibadanensis), occur in forest that is disappearing
rapidly throughout this region. The situation is most critical
for the Ibadan malimbe, which has the smallest range. Two
little-known species, the Loango weaver (P. subpersonatus) on
the coastal strip and the black-chinned weaver (P. nigrimentum)
in open savanna, range from Gabon southwards towards
Angola. In East Africa, Clarke’s weaver (P. golandi) is restricted to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya, while the Tanzanian
mountain weaver (P. nicolli) is found in relict forest patches
on the Usambara Mountains and a few other sites. Fortunately
both areas are now the site of active conservation programs.
Agricultural changes in the highland grasslands of Kenya are
a potential threat to Jackson’s widow, while Fox’s weaver (P.
spekeoides) is apparently confined to one lake system in central
Uganda, but remains unstudied. The Kilombero weaver (P.
burnieri) was a surprising discovery in Tanzania, described in
1990 and evidently limited to a small area.
Significance to humans
Several colonial weaver species are closely associated with
human settlements, nesting in exotic vegetation, and in
forested areas, taking advantage of habitat changes to colonize
new clearings. Eggs and nestlings may be utilized for
food on occasion, but often the relationship is quite harmonious.
The long tail feathers of breeding male long-tailed widows
(Euplectes progne) were once used as elements in traditional
head-dresses for warrior tribes in South Africa, but otherwise

the colored plumages have not been utilized.For hundreds of years, grain-eating weavers have been a
pest for farmers in Africa. M. Adanson, a French botanist for
whom the baobab genus Adansonia is named, spent several
years in Senegal from 1747, and reported that the inhabitants
suffered greatly from the depredations of the weavers. He described several traditional bird-scaring methods which are still
in use in Africa today. Since the 1960s the red-billed quelea
has been recognized as the major pest of cultivated cereals in
Africa. Despite international efforts to reduce its numbers, using
aerial spraying and fire-bombs set under roost sites, it remains
enormously abundant: in March 2000 the South African department of agriculture reported that an estimated 21 million
queleas had been killed in control operations during the past month! It seems that in the past, queleas bred prolifically in good years, and then starved when food supplies declined. Today when wild grass seeds are unavailable, they find crops a very acceptable alternative and consequently agriculture enables them to maintain high population levels.
                                     
                                      

 To the interested naturalist, a vast flock of queleas “roller-feeding” (in constant motion, with the birds at the back flying up over those ahead of them to be first at the untouched plants) is one of the great spectacles of Africa, but it is a catastrophe for the small farmer, and there is no simple, effective solution.