The Disappearing Finn’s Weaver

Remember the Baya weaver? The talented, yellow, sparrow-like bird that weaves its own nest? (I wrote about it earlier)

About:

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Winter dress…

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.

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Possibly a male…

 

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.

Behavior:

 

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.

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Nibbling on grass seeds…

Threats:

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. 

4 comments

  • Interesting article Aditya. Unfortunately we humans seem to think we know how to manage nature best but I’m sure that before the annual burn of the grasses the birds thrived much better. The odd time lightning would probably burn the grasses but not as regular and with as much devastation of the bird population. We have similar problems here in Canada in that hay is in its prime at the same time grassland birds are nesting (Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, several sparrow species) but many farmers harvest the hay anyway mowing down birds nests as well. Some do leave it a bit later to harvest the hay but whenever man gets involved things don’t go so well for the natural world. It sure is hard to know how to leave natural habitat when people are interested in more profit from their crops. Herbicide, pesticide and fertilizers are used far too much here in Canada for better crops at the expense of the natural inhabitants of the land.

  • Interesting and possibly insoluble problem! And it’s not just grasslands… on Abaco (Bahamas) the pine forests are set alight to clear the under-storey for hog-hunting. The pines actually benefit to an extent, but the fires spread rapidly to coppice areas where many birds nest – and even jump roads to local settlements. The local parrot, uniquely, nests underground in limestone caves. This protects them as fire sweeps across – but makes them vulnerable to predation. So far the hunters have the upper hand…

    • I find this kind of hunting very strange where the habitat is destroyed to kill helpless animals. The unfortunate thing about fire is that the same habitat can take years to rebuild.
      A solution needs to be found at the earliest for this problem. Thank you for sharing.

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