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Whydahs and Canaries, Oh My!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In the grasslands outside Nelspruit, South Africa, I enjoyed a day birding with my dear friend Peter Lawson. Lantana was running wild in the tangled grasses, and yellow-fronted canaries were feeding on its fruit. Blue is traditionally a bird-attracting color; plants that "want" birds to take their fruit make blue fruit.
No wonder lantana spreads like mad!

Yellow-fronted canary with common waxbill. The waxbills are just after grass seed.

The stars of the show this day were the pin-tailed whydahs. I'd seen whydahs in winter in South Africa, when they look like little brown house sparrows. Nothing prepared me for seeing the males in full summer raiment, breeding plumage.

They chose prominent perches all around the fields, showing off their spectacular tails.

That's a lot of tail for a little finch to carry. Must be some sexual selection at work here. The boys with the longest tails get the most mating opportunities...something like that must be going on.

Here's the little gal who decides how long the tails will get: the female pin-tailed whydah.

Yes, the males are spectacular, but the females are the ones driving the evolution of their wonderful tails. If female birds decide they like long tails and mate preferentially with long-tailed males, Nelly bar the door. Eventually you get a 5" bird with a 15" tail! And the males were dancing like mad, buffeted by a fresh warm breeze, their tails making sinusoidal curves as they danced.

O glory, what a bird. They landed with a flourish on a prominent high perch, letting their tails do their thing in the wind.

I love this shot of a male whydah dancing above a female (hidden in the grass). He's fluttering in one place, and he closes his wings to his body and just hangs in the air between flaps, looking like some kind of crazy wiglet suspended above the grass tops. Bird displays just knock me out. I can only imagine how cool it looks from below.

Resting between dancing bouts.

And a rattling cisticola cheering them on.


Wonderful images, amazing tail on the Whydah. Looks like a fantastic trip.

Hmmm--I am thinking. Any parallels to human behavior? Where tails are concerned?

Whydahs remind me of my kids' favorite Dr. Seuss story of "Gertrude McFuzz" and her fantastic tail.

I grew up with orange cheeked waxbills and strawberry finches as familiar family members and breakfast singers, cool to see them in the wild setting like that.

Wow! That male Pin-tailed Whydah is just plum crazy. Gotta see that some day...

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