Home | Field Notes and Observations on Birds | Nesting Associations of Red-Cheeked Cordon Blues (Uraeginthus bengalus) and African Vespid Wasps (Ropalidia cincta) may benefit Both Species: Notes from the Field

Nesting Associations of Red-Cheeked Cordon Blues (Uraeginthus bengalus) and African Vespid Wasps (Ropalidia cincta) may benefit Both Species: Notes from the Field

In an earlier article concerning the cordon blue (Introducing the Red-Cheeked Cordon Blue, Uraeginthus bengalus), I mentioned that this popular pet trade finch often nests close to wasp colonies in its native West Africa. It has long been known that certain birds derive protection from predators by nesting near colonies of ants, bees, wasps and other aggressive social insects. It has been shown that wasps eliminate nearly all parasitic botflies from nearby nests of oropendolas and yellow-rumped caciques, and wasp nests experimentally re-located (fun job!) to trees bearing the nests of rufous-naped wrens dramatically reduced predation by monkeys.

In the case of the cordon blue, pairs nesting near wasp colonies are usually more than twice as likely to successfully fledge chicks as are those in trees un-protected by wasps. An article in The Auk (Beir, P., 2006) has raised the possibility that certain wasps (Ropalidia cincta) may, in turn, derive benefits from living in proximity to nesting cordon blues.

Researchers working in Ghana noted that wasps establishing new colonies showed a strong preference for trees occupied by cordon blues. They discovered that the sting of the Ropalidia wasp is relatively ineffective against ants, which raid wasp nests, and smaller wasps, which parasitize the larvae. Cordon blues, on the other hand, relish small insects and may help the Ropalidia wasps by devouring ants and smaller wasp species. Further studies are under way.

I’m usually all for experimentation, but please do not be tempted to move any wasp nests into your cordon blue’s aviary!

An interesting article (Biotropica) on ant/bird nesting associations in Africa is posted at:

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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