Author: Madre du Plessis
1 February 2012
Camouflage and stealth are definitely not in the male Southern Red Bishop’s vocabulary during the breeding season! Breeding plumage consists of bright red and pitch black feathers that are shown off at their best from a prominent perch while attracting further attention by making loud swizzeling sounds. At times the male gets so carried away that he can be seen hanging horizontally or almost upside down between bursts of scuttling up-and-down a reed stem. The female, as typical of bishops, is a drab bird and has brown streaking and broad dull yellow eyebrows.
These birds feed mainly on seeds collected from plants or on the ground, but can cause damage to wheat and millet crops. They are also able to catch large insects like dragonflies and damselflies.
Red Bishops occur throughout southern Africa where reedbeds are found in permanent water. Males build a number of nests from grass strips within their small territory and hope to attract multiple females. Breeding colonies may contain hundreds of birds with the brightly coloured males busily flying around with puffed-out feathers like huge bumble bees.
The neatly woven nest built by the male and is suspended between two reed stems and has an entrance on the side. The female will later add some soft material for lining. Two to four plain blue eggs are laid per clutch, which is incubated by the female. The eggs hatch after 12 days and are fed regurgitated seeds and insects by the female only. The chicks, which resemble their drab mother, leave the nest after 14 days.
The male bishops are always alert at the breeding colonies because their broods are parasitized by the brightly coloured green-and-white Diderick Cuckoo. These cuckoos add a further element to the kaleidoscope of colour around the reedbed colonies containing the Red Bishops and the yellow shades belonging to Cape or Southern Masked-Weavers.