How to keep and breed weavers

How to keep and breed weavers – by Marcus Pollard

For the uninitiated, the weaver finches are a large family of birds that have, unfortunately, no relatives naturally occurring in Australia yet are well represented in Asia and Africa. Of this family we have a few survivors hanging on in Australia – these are the Red Bishop, the Orange Bishop, the Napoleon, the Comoro, and the Madagascar weavers – or Fodies as they are sometimes known.

Unfortunately, the latter two have been heavily hybridized and pure examples of each can be difficult to obtain at times.

Keeping Weavers in the aviary:

Weaver Aviary

I’ll stick here to the Red Bishop as I’ve had a long relationship with these guys. For around 7 months of the year, both sexes resemble the humble House sparrow and are inconspicuous members of the aviary community with both males and females in close proximity.

Weavers In the Holding Cage
Weavers In the Holding Cage.

However, with the onset of spring and the promise of rain (!!) the dull drab plumage is shed by the male to be replaced by his nuptial plumage of red and black and your aviary resounds to the hiss and cackle of a ‘man on a mission’! No longer will the females venture too near the male for fear of his ‘amorous ardor’ being directed at her!

Once a suitable tree has been selected the males will start to weave a number of rings that he hopes will appeal to one of the gals. However, in order to show these rings to the best effect, he strips the area around his nest to the detriment of any foliage in the way – from our experience, the Orange Bishop does not do this to any great degree nor does the Napoleon and in their case, the nest is often well hidden.

For this reason, we recommend the humble Genista bush for the weaver aviary as it can take any punishment the weavers can dish out and still keep coming back year after year. I strongly advise against planting expensive Bamboos as they will look magnificent for about 5 minutes into the breeding season – yes, I speak through experience when I was young and silly(er!).

Once the hen has selected her perfect ring the male goes into overdrive to complete it after which the hen will line it with cotton wool or fine swamp grass – despite popular belief the male has also been seen participating in nest lining.

On completion of the nest the hen will lay between 2 and 4 pale blue eggs in it – the same color in the Orange Bishop and white in the Napoleon.

Incubation is around 15 days and the chicks are in the nest for around 20-22 days before fledging it is a period of intense activity for the hen in finding enough insects to keep her hungry brood well-fed.

Small spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, small praying mantis, mealworms, and maggots are fed to our birds.
A regular supply of insects is essential for rearing chicks and any interruption will result in the chicks being thrown on the floor.

Some pairs eat green food while others show little interest in it but we always have cucumber available to all pairs.

The nest may be reused – despite what many believe – and it is not uncommon to have one relined and ready for another clutch from time to time.

Generally, a new one is built but it is no hard and fast rule!

When the young leave the nest it is also easy to sex them as the male has very large legs in comparison to the female. This method is apparently not as reliable for the Napoleon weaver and we’ll let you know about the Orange Bishop – one day!!!

Here there is another well-accepted fallacy that it takes the cock Grennies two years to reach adult nuptial plumage. Over the years you will find some will color one year after fledging and this year I had two cocks do it in different aviaries. However, none of the ones that exhibited this ever actually bred until they were two years old. Remember I once said the words “always and never” should be stricken from the bird keeper’s vocab!!

Weaver Nests:

Napoleon Weaver Nest
Napoleon Weaver Nest.

The weaving of these structures is a joy to watch and once you have witnessed it you will always have these guys in your collections! The Grenny is possibly the least fussy of the weavers using most green and even dried grasses to build from – favorites at home are any of the Pennisetum family of grasses and Poa billardieria or tussock grass – both green and growing – and have even seen them made from November grass!

The Orange Bishop appears to be far fussier and a mainland source suggested Cocos palms, Arecastrum romanzoffianum, was the way to go and these are certainly attacked with vigor – as to actual nests we’ll let you know!!

Red Bishop Weaver Nest
Red Bishop Weaver Nest

The Napoleon uses the Pennisetum family of grasses but shows little interest in Tussock grasses.

Feeding Weavers:

The weaver family is simplicity itself to feed and outside the breeding season, they exist quite happily on any basic finch mix and often show little interest in live food. Green seeding heads are appreciated but many refuse soft foods and other supplements. Some will eat Lebanese or Continental cucumber while others ignore it – no hard and fast rule.

A constant supply of live food is essential if chicks are to be reared.

Weaver aggression in the aviary :

The Madagascar and Comoro have a well-founded reputation for aggression as these two examples may point out.

I once purchased a trio of Madagascars to help foster my Grennies one season as I had heard that this was the way to go. However, once in the aviary the cock Maddy took over and would not let any other finches out of the shelter unless he felt like a feed that was when there would be a major commotion as he hounded them out into the open flight!

What of the two hen Maddies do you ask? They were both hiding in the corner along with the rest of the Grenadier family!! A dismal failure that “plan”!

Scenario two was when a mate asked me to take back a pair of Green Singers I had loaned to him because they were too aggressive and had killed a Turquoisine parrot!! One odd thing he did say was that the Singers were nesting in a parrot nest box! Turned out they were sharing the cage with a family of 8 Maddies (2 parents and they’re young) and one morning he went out to find another parrot dead plus all of the young Maddies with the father in the process of dispatching the last one of his offspring – the Singers remained firmly ensconced in their nest box!

Cock Napoleon Weaver
Cock Napoleon Weaver

Conclusion to keeping and breeding weavers:

As a tough, easy to cater for species the weaver family deserves a second look if you are looking for that something other than grassfinch-like behavior for your next aviary.

Although the rarer members, the Orange Bishop and the Napoleon, still command high prices the Grenadier is now freely available and is a firm favorite of mine. Remember to factor in their propensity for live food when feeding young before purchasing a pair as their habit of turfing youngsters can get a little frustrating – maybe a look at the last issue of Aviary Life and the cricket set-up might set you in great stead.

Tough, easy to feed, and hardy in most Australian climatic conditions makes this species a great step up to the next tier of finch keeping. Their display alone is worth their purchase price!

However, if it is the Madagascar weaver that you crave might I be so bold as to suggest a separate aviary as these guys appear to have little in the way of a sense of humor!!!

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