UPDATE 5 November 2012: Recently, Ms Anne H. Outwater, author of the article in Tanzania Daily News which is the source of this blog post, was so kind to send me these three photos she made about the events. Thank you so much!
Tanzania: A Sad Chapter of Early Morning Nest-Breaking
By Anne Outwater, 15 July 2012
It started out in an exciting way. A bird starting building her nest on the Baphia (Mkuruti) tree on a branch hanging about three meters from the balcony veranda. It was a perfect viewing.
I started planning a photographic series with her as leading lady. She was quietly colored in grey-browns and tans, soft stripes on her chest. Her delicate small body and strong curved beak, her undulating, hovering, other times darting flight patterns let me know that she is a sunbird (Sw. Chozi).
It is almost impossible though to distinguish her from many other female sunbirds species. All female sunbird species are colored to camouflage with the nest-much different than the distinctive sparkling males. She started building early in the morning of 10 June, looping plant fibers and spider webs over an arching branch.
As she built, she hung on that foundational loop again and again, making sure that she was building a nest strong enough to hold the eventual weight of two large nestlings and herself. After the initial loop, she added more plant material (vegetable fibers, dried leaves), bits of green plastic, spider webs, feathers; I think I even saw my own hair woven into the nest.
The entrance was formed quite early, and she spent a lot of time shaping it with her head, pushing her head into the hanging form until the entrance was the right size and shape. I watched her. Sometimes she hovered in front of me, beak full of nesting material, looking at me eye to eye. She was aware I was watching her.
She did not seem to mind that I was taking photographs. In fact it felt that she was building her nest hanging from this particular branch just so that I could watch. Maybe she hoped my proximity would be protective? Or maybe, she liked the attention of being a leading lady in a series of photographs; it is possible she is the same one I photographed last year in the hedge.
She made hundreds of trips, sometimes pausing on a nearby tree to quickly preen her feathers. But generally building looping, quickly in and out, steadily lengthening the nest, shaping it, and strengthening it with spider webs and long strands of spider silk.
The male for his part often flew with her as she went to collect materials, chattering.
Sometimes she would fly straight to another tree and he would fly with her spiraling around her straight flight. He was flying very fast, very beautiful maneuvers. He seemed to be encouraging and praising her, giving her energy. Other times he was flashing around at a distance, often at the top of the tree, distracting potential predators. From his dashing green, blue, and purple iridescent feathers I identified the pair as Purple-banded Sunbirds.
She worked on the nest for from about 6:30am to 5:30pm for two busy days. By the end of the second day, her long hanging pocket nest was finished. Purple-banded Sunbird nests are variable. It seems that there is a big effort for the nest to blend into the surroundings so the materials used vary to make that happen. For example, nests closer to the building were decked with cement chips and paint flakes.
This nest, higher in the tree was mostly vegetative material, brown, beautifully sculpted. Almost a different artistic sensibility! The next days she was not tending it much. But she was near. On June 14, early in the morning, I noticed four Indian House Crows (Kunguru Kaya) hanging around. I tried to chase them away. But they just came back all eyes on the nest. I knew it was over, because Crows do not forget a tasty tidbit once they notice it.
Suddenly, swoosh, a Crow flew in and grabbed onto the nest. I yelled and shook my hands. It was 7:07am. The nest held its weight. The crow reached into the carefully formed entrance, and ripped it apart, gutting the nest. Nothing inside. Then they all flew away, probably cursing that they had not waited a couple of weeks so they could have eaten plump fledglings.
The female Sunbird came back a couple of minutes later and looked at the damage from all angles, top, bottom, hanging on the shredded nest.
The male for the first time came close, he flashed in at 7:11am, hovering in front of the damaged nest. Then House Sparrows (Shomoro Kaya) came to the tree and sat on some lower branches, with eyes cocked to the nest above.
A male Collared Sunbird also came and hovered near the nest, looking at it intently. The next day the female came back. The male too. But the chapter was closed.
- Near-extinct toads back in Tanzania (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Purple Sunbird (abhijitmali.com)
- Nature Blows My Mind! Weaverbirds Craft Amazing Nests (treehugger.com)
- Birds and hurricanes like Sandy (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)