The Disappearing Finn’s Weaver
The Finn’s Weaver is a cousin of the Baya but with a bigger beak and is overall very similar in appearance. Its hard to tell them apart in winters but in summers, the difference becomes crystal clear.
The boys turn all yellow exept for a black ear-patch while retaing their baya-like wings and general appearance.
In the girls, the bodies turn canary yellow but they lack the black ear spot and the head may retain some browny tint.
It lives mainly in the grasslands and reedbeds of North and Northeast India including Nepal. While this sounds like a large area, these birds are very localized and poorly distributed.
When I saw them, they were nibbling on grass seeds, wearing their winter dresses. This was mainly reddish brown with the head almost unstreaked and with creamy white /buff bellies. The rest being similar to the Baya Weaver.
Historically, this has been a lost-and-found bird. Its population has been subgrouped into two variants based on their distibution. Sadly, there has been a significant drop in their numbers and neither of them is doing well and consequently, they have been classified as Vulnerable.
I found only three birds and not a single nest (that is one reason for the lack of photographs of this bird. I will post new pictures if and when I find more of these birds). This, in what was expected to be their best habitat. It also happened to be one of the few protected areas where they are found. What I mean to say is that most of its range is unprotected. Three birds cannot be called a flock. I expected to find more of them and couldn’t understand the reasons for their low numbers.
Later, while watching a TV documentary about that place and the animals that live there, I found the probable explanation. I realized that when the grasses dry out, the area is set on fire. While this ensures that the grassland recovers fast so that the mammals of the area can be sustained, in my opinion, this practice is turning out to be disastrous for the birds who depend on that grassland. The Finn’s weaver is a classic example and it is not the only one. Though the area was very rich, several grassland birds were missing. I learnt from reliable sources that the Bengal Florican, which is critically endangered has not been seen in the area since 2017.
One question: Is there a way to protect grasslands without the use of fire so that the bird and the mammals living there remain safe? Will be good to know your views.