Among the most delightful of the avian visitors to our garden are the Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata), which are among smallest birds in South Africa. I think they are truly delightful little birds and often regard them as feathered bundles of happiness.
Males and females look alike: they have grey bills and blackish heads with white underparts and brown barring on their sides. The metallic green patch of feathers on their shoulders stands out in the sunlight. By contrast, the immature birds are pale brown above with buff head and underpart plumage.
Having observed them in our garden for several years now, I get the impression that they are very cheerful and busy little birds – even though I have seen males being fairly aggressive towards one another, especially during the breeding season. They flutter about like falling leaves and make what I regard as cheerful calls. This one is taking time out from feeding to do some personal grooming.
Bronze Mannikins are dependent on water and regularly visit one of several bird baths situated in our garden. Although I usually see them in fairly large flocks, they tend to be very skittish and flick their wings and tail when anxious or alarmed. They take flight as a group to the nearest shelter and return to feeding very cautiously once they feel it is safe to do so.
These birds are voracious eaters: the level in my feeder goes down noticeably whenever they come to visit! Bronze Mannikins mainly eat grass seeds supplemented with insects. In my garden they appear to be equally happy to use the hanging bird feeders or to forage on the ground. I usually leave a patch of wild grass to go to seed in my back garden during the autumn and winter: it is wonderful watching these tiny birds bending the grass stems as they feed on the seeds.
I was interested to read the other day that these birds fall prey to both the Fork-tailed Drongos and the Common Fiscals – as well as cats, of course. It took weeks for them to approach the feeders with confidence after our neighbouring cats began coming into the garden.