As Bob and I made our way into the Main Pavilion at Skukuza Rest Camp to sign up for a guided night safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa, our mission was interrupted when a flicker of yellow drew our eyes to a nearby palm tree. We were delighted to see a beautiful Lesser Masked Weaver dangling upside down from a stiff palm frond.
In a garden next to the building, several palms were growing at the edge of a small pond. This water feature made the garden very popular with the Lesser Masked Weavers.
As Bob and I stood admiring the statuary, we noticed that the fronds of the palms were liberally hung with interesting nests woven artfully into oval shapes.
Lesser Masked Weavers are colonial nesters, and with anywhere between 10-300 breeding males in one colony, it explains why a tree might be weighted down by scores of nest sacs.
Bob and I watched as one Lesser Masked Weaver worked industriously to enhance its nest using fine threads from the palm leaves. The bird would delicately break a small filament from the side of a palm leaflet then pull it away from the leaflet for the entire length of the blade before detaching it and returning to the nest.
It is the male Weavers that build the nests using blades of grass, strips of reeds and fine pieces of palm leaves and preference is given to trees where the nests can hang over water. This is viewed as a means of discouraging predators.
We were mesmerized by the complicated weaving that went into the making of this cozy nest. With a neck that protrudes from the underside of each kidney-shaped structure, the thin-walled cavities will keep eggs and chicks secure and dry.
It takes about 12 hours to weave one nest, and a male Weaver must construct between 3-5 similar nests so that a potential mate can choose the one she prefers.
Although neither Bob nor I noticed any female Lesser Masked Weavers, this male had obviously been accepted by a female because it is only then that the male Weaver adds an entrance tunnel to the nest sac that she has chosen.
Egg laying peaks between October and January, and we were on site in November, so the female would soon be lining the nest with soft materials in time for her to lay her eggs. I sure wish we’d caught sight of this bird’s mate.