The White-browed Sparrow Weavers (Plocepasser mahali) were first described by one Andrew Smith after his trip to the interior in 1836. The mahali part of the scientific name comes from the Setswana word for the bird. These are iconic birds of the rest camp in the Mountain Zebra National Park, where some of them have been ringed.
They are always on the lookout for seeds, usually foraging in flocks of four to ten birds. If one bird spots a source of food, the others join it in a flash. I say ‘it’ for males and females look the same, although males are said to be slightly larger than the females. Their plumage does not alter with the seasons.
We watched as they collected several seeds in their beaks at once and observed how easily they crack some of the harder seeds open.
White-browed Sparrow Weavers make untidy nests in the thorn trees that abound in the national park. These are maintained throughout the year and seem to favour the western side of the trees.
These sociable birds adopt a variety of roles during the breeding season. This is when breeding pairs are assisted by their previous offspring, and non-related birds help to defend the breeding territory.