Some of the most impressive sights of our recent visit to the Satara area of the Kruger National Park was the enormous flocks of Red-billed Quelea occupying the grasslands of the central plains. Following the good rains that bought respite from an awful drought, the savannas are heavy with a rich harvest of seeding grasses, and literally millions of the little birds are making the most of the abundant foodsource. When their population reaches a peak, as it currently has, there could be as many as 33-million Red-billed Queleas swirling in cloudy swarms over the Park!
The Red-billed Quelea is a small (20g) seed-eating sparrow-like nomad inhabiting grasslands and grainfields (causing enormous losses to farming communities). Swarms that could number in the millions descend on watering holes at least twice daily. While feeding they “roll” over the grasslands in a wave-like motion, most impressive to witness! While seeds make up the vast majority of their diet they do catch small insects as well, especially when raising chicks.
Nesting occurs communally in the rainy months and hundreds, even thousands, of nests are woven per tree (prefers thorn trees) by the males. Breeding colonies could consist of more than 2 million monogamous pairs, and is a magnet for every imaginable predatory bird, reptile and mammal that is large enough to take adults and chicks. Clutches normally number three eggs and the female incubates them for only 12 days, whereafter the chicks fledge within another two weeks!
The Red-billed Quelea may well be the most abundant bird on the planet, with an estimated population as large as ten billion, and as such is considered as being of least concern by the IUCN. It occurs widely in the savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa and can be found in every one of South Africa’s provinces, where it must number in the hundreds of millions.
(The photos in the following gallery were taken on visits to the Kruger Park and elsewhere)