Over the past few weeks, bird enthusiasts have been out on grasslands, paddy fields and near water bodies across the country, hoping to catch glimpses of the Baya Weaver. This is the mating season of the bird, and it can be spotted in all its glory, with the bright plumage it grows specifically during this period. Also of attraction to nature lovers are the special nests the male Baya weaves for its mate.
A type of weaver-bird, the Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus) is found across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It feeds on small insects and nests in colonies. On treks or nature rambles, one can come across several of the Baya Weaver’s characteristic, retort-shaped nests hanging from the same tree.
“The last Baya Weaver count took place ten years ago, but the Bombay Natural History Society believes that changes in environment and habitat since then have altered their population,” says Siddhesh Surve, Project Assistant at BNHS and organiser of the pan-India survey. “We need new data to understand its population patterns,” Surve says.
In Mumbai, large numbers of Baya Weavers can be found around Airoli bridge, Thane Creek and Dombivli. “The rule of thumb is that the further you go away from Mumbai city proper, the more birds you will find,” says Surve.
Although the BNHS has not yet fully analysed the information it has received, Surve knows enough about the general patterns of the bird’s population to predict what the results might look like. “The birds are currently being classified under ‘least concern’. But the rapid development on grasslands, which the government unjustly disregards as ‘wastelands’, is threatening the Baya Weavers’ habitat,” says Surve.
The Baya Weaver may not seem particularly spectacular — small, brown, and often confused with the house sparrow. But during the mating season, it bursts into colour. “Males grow bright yellow feathers on the head and chest, though females sport them only on their head,” says Surve.
Breeding season begins in April. It takes the males around a month to build their nest, so by now the females would have settled in their chosen nests and laid their eggs. Counting the number of Baya Weavers and their nests during this period would give scientists a fairly accurate picture of the bird’s numbers and reproductive health.
It is the male Baya Weaver that builds the nest, an intricate construction that looks like a hairy brown coconut cut in half and hung from a branch.
“This clever little bird knows 14 to 18 different types of knots,” says Surve. “He uses them to hold his nest together so that it can resist monsoon storms and hold the weight of his mate and their eggs.” The bird also makes small mud pellets to weigh the nest down.
This might seem like a lot of work, but the female Baya Weaver demands much to be impressed. She jumps from nest to nest for quality inspection before deciding on her mate. But once the male has been selected, he loses interest and and flies off in search of more females almost immediately. His abandoned mate incubates the eggs, which hatch in around two weeks.