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  • Stéphanie Périquet

Queleas murmurations at Andersson's

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Have you ever heard about queleas? Chances are you did hear about these huge flocks of small, red-billed birds destroying crops and being eradicated as pest? These are red-billed queleas (Quelea quelea), small (15-26g) migratory birds of the weaver family that gather in large (as in, very large) flocks. They feed predominantly on seeds from annual grasses, but also decimate cereal crops. So, when the rainy season has been good and there is a lot of grass, like this year, they gather by the million! While during the day, they form smaller foraging sub-groups, they roost in very large flocks in the same tree. And their daily ritual includes a trip to the waterhole, just after sunrise and just before sunset. The noise, wind, and dust involved are quite astonishing!

For the most part of July and August, they put on a show at Andersson's waterhole. Pictures can't quite describe it, but it was breath-taking. One can only marvel at the patterns these huge flocks create, and wonder how birds don't collide into each other more often… They all pack themselves in the same small tree next to the water, and when they reach a critical mass (at this stage, the branches touch the ground under their weight), they suddenly all go to drink at the same time, competing for a spot at the edge of the water. Then comes a falcon (or an elephant) and they all take off in panic, going back to the safety of the tree…

The patterns created by these flocks are called "murmurations", maybe because a simple murmur would send the birds dancing in the sky in intricated patterns…

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