What is a quelea bird?
The term quelea bird usually refers to the species Quelea quelea, the Red-billed Quelea, native to bush, grasslands, and savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. The Red-billed Quelea is one of the weavers, birds that build elaborate enclosed nests by weaving together strands of grass and other plant materials. There are more than one hundred species of weaversmost of them live in Africa, but others are found in the Arabian Peninsula, India, Southeast Asia, China, and Indonesia. Most weavers dont clash with humans, but a flock of Red-billed quelea, sometimes called locust birds, is a flock of pest birds that African farmers fear.
Why are quelea birds considered bird pests?
Quelea birds troubled Egypt thousands of years ago, arriving in large flocks wherever grain crops were grown, and eating every seed. Today, this pest bird is still devastating African crops. The flock breeds at times of abundant rainfall and young are ready to move with the nomadic flock within six weeksoften coinciding with the ripening of grain crops. A nesting colony of Red-billed quelea can extend over hundreds of acres, and a single flock may number millions of birds, moving together in a synchronized fashion.
A flock of Red-billed quelea has been described as looking like a rolling cloud passing over a grain field or a grass fire sweeping over the grassland. It might as well be a grass fire, for when a huge flock of these bird pests leaves a field of millet, sorghum, or other cereal crop, scarcely a grain will be left behind. Wild grasses and cultivated wheat crops are highly attractive to them, and wherever there is grain and a source of water in Africa, there is a risk of a quelea bird outbreak.
Quelea bird pest control
Farmers in African have been trying bird pest control measures for decades, but the so-called locust birds persist. Fire bombs and poisoned spray have been used with limited success almost 200 million quelea birds are killed by farmers each year, but overall numbers are so high, and the birds reproduce so rapidly, that the population rebounds after each effort.
Aside from the fact that poisons and other bird pest control measure have failed to reduce the numbers of Africas most hated pest bird, there are other issues with these methodsother species of birds as well as crustaceans, insect species, and other animals are also killed, and toxic poisons are added to the environment. Recent discussions about quelea bird pest control have started to turn towards prediction of breeding based on weather patterns, deterrence, harvesting the Red-billed Quelea as a natural resource, and reestablishing natural predators of the species in African habitats. Expansion of farmlands growing large areas of cereal crops have allowed the Red-billed Quelea to flourish, and an integrated bird pest management strategy is needed to keep quelea bird numbers under control.
Read about an African bird that went astray:
The Glace Bay Western Reef Heron
Birds of North America. Kaufman, Kenn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Red-billed Quelea. Kenya Birds.
Red-billed Quelea. Mundy, P. J., and M. Herremans. University of Cape Town: Avian Demography Unit.