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Baya Weaver
Ploceus philippinus

Weaver Bird/Finch, Tempua (Malay)


Like the munias they are closely related to, Baya Weavers eat mainly grass seeds. They too have large conical beaks to deal with their food. They forage in flocks, in grass as well as on the ground. The flock flies in close formation, often performing complicated manouvres.

Breeding: These dull looking birds have a most interesting breeding season (December-March). At this time, the males put on a brighter costume and they start to build their amazing nests.

Baya Weavers nest in colonies of up to 20-30, usually in trees near freshwater and open ground. In Singapore, they appear to prefer coconut palms. Elsewhere, they may nest in an isolated low tree. They have been known to nest in trees with a hornet's nest or with the nests of fiercely biting Red Ants.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (15cm).

Male: Breeding: crown yellow; dark brown mask; underparts unstreaked; upper parts dark brown streaked buff; bill blackish brown.

Non-breeding male: no yellow crown (then dark brown streaked buff); no mask; eyebrows long buffy; bill horn-coloured.
breeding male baya weaver (seeking permission to use)
Breeding male
calling out on his
newly built nest
Female: Similar to non-breeding male.

Call: Loud harsh chip; at nest a curious wheezy rattling song chit-chit-chit-chee-ee-ee-ee.

Status in Singapore: Fairly common resident throughout the mainland and North offshore islands.

World distribution: Pakistan to Southwest China, down Southeast Asia to Sumatra and Java. Despite their species name, they are not found in the Philippines or Borneo.

Similar birds: Munias: they are closely related and have similar habits.

Classification: Family Passeridae. World 386 species, Singapore 16 species.
The Baya Weaver's nest is an architectural feat. It hangs from a palm frond or branch and looks like an upside down flask. The general features are a central nesting area with a long tube that leads to a side entrance. This tube makes it difficult even for snakes to enter the nest. Although they look precarious, most nests are very well attached and are impossible to remove without almost destroying the nest. The nests last well through the 3-month breeding season, sometimes even up to a year. After the breeding season, other small birds may roost in the abandoned nests. The nests are made entirely out of strips of grass which the birds collect by cutting a notch in a tall grass, then stripping off a 30-60cm length.

Cross-section of nest
from Tweedie
completed nest of baya weaver (seeking permission to use)
No stalks or entire grass blades are used. The birds then use their strong beaks to weave and knot the strips of grass. A newly-made nest is green with fresh grass and turns brown as the grass dries. A bird may make up to 500 trips to complete a nest. Madoc reports that a "male" nest he examined comprised 3,437 strips of grass 4-50 cm long.

Female checking the inside
of a nest while the hopeful
male waits outside
The males are promiscuous and try to attract females by building several nests halfway. These half-built "male" nests look like motorcycle helmets complete with chin strap! Lumps of dry clay may be inserted around the rim to stabilise the nest in strong winds. The male performs displays and songs on these half-built nests to attract a mate. This type of nest is also called a "cock-swing"!

A female bird first inspects the male's handiwork of a nest before signalling her approval to him. Once a female chooses to mate with him, he might finish the nest. But often, the female completes the nest. When the female lays and is preoccupied with incubating the eggs, the male abandons her and immediately uses his other half-finished nests to woo a new female. Most males mate with two females, but sometimes three. The males defend his nests from other males. Meanwhile, the female is left to incubate and raise the brood on her own. 3-4 white eggs are laid and the nestlings are fed insects.

Status and threats: Baya Weavers depend on tall grasses such as Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum) for both their food and for their nesting material. In Singapore, they are found in grassland, cultivated areas, scrub and secondary growths usually near fresh or brackish water.
They are considered a pest on ricefields and Madoc describes that they were caught and made into "a succulent dish".

LINKS

  • To breed and brood by N. Shiva Kumar on the Hindustani Times: a lively article about the birds with photos of the nests.
REFERENCES
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 369: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Morten Strange, "Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia", New Holland, 1998 (p. 98: photo, facts).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 120: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • Wang Luan Keng, "Nature's Nest Architects at Sungei Buloh", Wetlands Vol 3 No 1, Jun 1996.
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 131: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 93: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 136: photo of a bird on its nest).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 154: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 63-64: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing of nest and cross-section).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 215-216: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 207: brief description of the bird and its nest).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001