An Under-handed Reproductive Strategy
At first glance, it might seem odd that East Africa’s pin-tailed whydah is such a popular aviary bird, as this resourceful sneak lays its eggs in the nests of other species, and relies upon the unwitting “foster parents” to raise its young. This reproductive strategy, termed brood parasitism, is shared by most the whydah’s 18 relatives, all classified within the family Viduidae. I should point out that adult whydahs do not (as is the case with a better known brood parasite, the common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus) toss out or eat the host’s eggs, and the fledglings rarely dislodge host chicks from the nest – the foster parents usually raise both successfully.So, in order to breed pin-tailed whydahs, one must have at least one mated pair of host birds, synchronized to lay eggs at a time favorable to a mated pair of whydahs. As successful and aspiring breeders can imagine, this can be very tricky, and will likely consume no small amount of time, space and money.
However, upon first viewing a male whydah in courtship flight, I immediately understood why many people happily put in the effort. The breeding male trails a fabulous, 10-12 inch tail from his 5-inch long, finch-like body, which itself is boldly marked in black and white. What’s more, his bobbing flight is often punctuated by falcon-like dives, which add to the drama of the display. Three to six females, or more, may line up to view his efforts.
Those of you with spacious outdoor aviaries, and tempted to take on a new challenge, might wish to consider this fascinating bird. Its usual host, the red-eared waxbill (Estrilida troglodytes) is common in the trade a reliable breeder. The waxbill’s courtship behavior usually brings the whydah into breeding readiness in short order.
If you do take on pin-tailed whydahs, bear in mind that they are polygamous in nature, and so are best kept in groups consisting of 1 cock and 2-6 hens (males are intolerant of each other). If you lack the space required by these gorgeous birds, by all means try to see them in a zoo or, better yet, in the wild (they are quite common throughout much of East Africa – the name “whydah” is drawn from a Nigerian town of the same name).
Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.
You can read more about whydahs in the wild and captivity at: