All About Napoleon Weavers

Meeting: Yellow-crowned bishop
Meeting: Yellow-crowned bishop



Napoleon Weavers (Yellow-crowned bishop) Fundamentals


Having had a go at keeping most of the ever-shrinking array of exotics still available in Australia, and a host of others over my avicultural journey, there was one species that I had never kept, and I felt it was high time I remedied that shortcoming.

That species is the Napoleon Weaver or Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer which naturally resides in a large area of Africa—southwards down to Zanzibar and down the eastern side of The Sudan, right into South Africa. Perhaps because of that huge expanse there is considerable variation within wild Napoleon populations. I read an article on them by a South African author and his birds were vastly different—blacker on the front—to the ones available in Australia.

I once consulted Russell Kingston for his thoughts on this obvious variation. He told me that the Napoleon Weaver has a fragmented distribution within its overall range, which tends to favour various ‘local variations’ popping up due to this limited isolation. He also told me that the original Napoleons imported into Australia were from West Africa and hence distinct from many of those seen in overseas collections.

Always a source of finchy facts, he stated that the ones seen in South Africa were E. afer taha, which were also in Australia at one time and were characterised by their dark black fronts. These are long gone, it would seem, or at least assimilated into what we now know as Aussie Napoleons. The history of these guys in Australian aviaries has been a rollercoaster at times and ‘back in the day’ they were certainly not the relatively cheap finch they are today. When we first saw them, they were around $3200 a pair and females were extremely scarce. At that time a male would cost you $600 and a female $2900! Fast forward to today and a pair is generally around the $500 mark.

How did this happen? Well, I’m quite pleased to say that I had inside knowledge into two people that were breeding them when they were high-priced and their efforts in producing this species are legendary. One of those two was in my own home state of Tasmania and the other in Victoria. Without the time, effort and knowledge applied to this species, chances are they would still be commanding such a price as to put them out of the reach of many average aviculturists—myself included!

PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS


As usual, I feel the need to digress at this point; please bear with me. Back when they were commanding high prices, I was on a camp with a number of other teachers on picturesque Maria Island on the east coast of Tasmania. I remember I was sitting watching a few Beautiful Firetails that abound on the island when a teacher, who hailed from South Africa, sat down and started chatting ‘bird talk’. The topic quickly turned to the host of African waxbills that we Aussies lust over. I asked him about the weavers over there, being a huge fan, and he started to describe the Napoleon Weavers which were as common there as House Sparrows are in Australia.

He said his ‘job’ as a child was to shoot them for his mother because they used to poo all over her washing. When I told him their price in Australia, he went white and looked at me very oddly—horses for courses I guess!

I remember seeing Napoleon Weavers first at Benalla, in a massive open aviary.

The owner said that they mostly bred males and that females were a rare commodity. The opportunity presented itself for a friend of mine to get a pair from a chap in Quakers Hill, NSW, and these proved to be excellent parents.

The hunt was then on to locate as many different bloodlines as we could throughout Australia. A few swaps with the chap previously mentioned in Victoria and they regularly started to produce decent numbers—including the allimportant females.

So the present availability of these birds in aviculture owes a great deal to the prowess of these two breeders. As my mate always says, when you live off your birds you have to be ‘reasonably’ good at it in order to continue eating!

With all that in mind and the original diffi culties encountered to establish these guys in the first place, I must be honest and say mine have bred like there’s no tomorrow. The current bloodlines would appear no more difficult to breed than Grenadier Weavers, dare I say.

I must also admit to only having them in the aviary this season, so it could just be beginners’ luck but, regardless, I’ll give you a brief rundown on what they are eating and where they are kept (with a little help courtesy of my ‘phone a friend’ Allen Oliver who has much more experience than me with this species).


Housing Yellow-crowned bishop



HOUSING: Yellow-crowned bishop


When contemplating adding Napoleons to my new aviary, I consulted with Allen to determine his recommended stocking density for these guys. Given the aviary is 11m x 12m in what is roughly an L-shape, he suggested three males and five females.

As is usually the case, one of the males assumed dominance from day one and still ‘owns’ the aviary currently. One of the other sub-dominant males has also produced a few chicks, so all is good and there have been no overt acts of aggression between any of the males so far. Allen suggests adding in a young male every season and retiring one of the more mature males so that they learn from the dominant male in readiness for their turn with the gals! We do this for all the weaver species that we run in our aviaries.


how to feed Yellow-crowned bishop
how to feed Yellow-crowned bishop



How to Feed Napoleon Weavers


Our Napoleons are fed on the Clifton Finch Mix from Elenbee Seeds™ as their basic fare and have shown a liking for both their Clifton Tonic Mix™ and Greens N’ Grains™ mixes as well.

In the live food stakes, they are fed mealworms, crickets and fly larvae and pupae. They take live food at any time but their consumption when chicks are being fed is not as high as species like the Golden Song Sparrow. Mind you, don’t ever let the aviary run out because they are very insistent when the bowl is empty and they have mouths to feed. Whenever available, I empty the contents of a number of moth traps into the aviary and they eagerly hunt these—if they can beat the Chaffies to them of course! I also added two Vinegar Fly cultures into the aviary as the Redcresteds appeared to love them, but I have also seen the Napoleons actively hawking the fl ies when feeding young. Crickets of any size are consumed.


how to breed Yellow-crowned bishop
how to breed Yellow-crowned bishop


How to Breed Napoleon Weavers


As is common to all the Euplectes weavers that we keep, the males have an eclipse (dull, non-breeding) plumage and a nuptial plumage. Males generally start to assume their yellow nuptial plumage from November onwards down here—much later than the Grenadier Weaver and well before the Orange Bishop. As with all weavers, this is accompanied by a lot of hissing, puffing up and female chasing.

The courtship display has to be seen to be believed. If you can imagine a weaversized bumble-bee intensely flying through the undergrowth, then you have it in one.

Males puff themselves up and hunt the females through the grasses and shrubs.

This courtship is a tad on the boisterous side, which is why Allen does not recommend keeping them in with the more timid finches, and why mine are in with the two robust species.

Allen removes his youngsters during the winter months. He stated that once the males go out of colour there is no aggression between the adults and their young male siblings. He also suggested that leaving one or two young females in the aviary was a good move as it allowed them to ‘learn their trade’ from the more experienced older breeding females.

Unlike the more common Grenadier, once a male Napoleon commences nestbuilding, you know that it will be used for hatching and rearing chicks as he appears loath to waste his time building rings and trying to ‘entice’ females to give it their tick of approval. That might explain the more aggressive nature of this species— ‘I’ve built it, you use it!’

Now, before looking at the nest construction, I’ll wade into the pair versus trio debate that has ‘raged’ around the traps forever. If you get a good male you will be laughing, but if that lone male doesn’t feel any ‘pressure to perform’ then he may do nothing. The perceived pressure due to proximity of another male presence—whether in the same aviary or an adjacent one—is sometimes all that is needed for breeding to commence. This is particularly true for the Orange Bishop.

Mind you, I would not advocate placing another male into a breeding colony of any weaver species during the breeding season. The best/safest time is when they are out of colour.

Aggression around breeding time would see the Napoleon fit nicely between the Grenadier and the Orange Bishop, and mine have been faultless. (Mind you they are only in with Red-cresteds and Chaffinches.) I have also seen them chasing Diamond Sparrows around in one person’s aviary, so I guess it’s the usual rule for any finch species, that you need to treat each pair on their merits when it comes to aggression. I did see a male front the Red-crested male, but the noise the latter emitted convinced the weaver that this was not an easy mark, so best be off!


Yellow-crowned bishop Nesting and Chicks
Yellow-crowned bishop: Nesting and Chicks

 

NESTING AND CHICKS


The nest is mostly hidden away in foliage and, unlike the Grenadier, there is no stripping of the area around the nest, which is great for the rest of the foliage.

Mind you, they will still decimate every fresh spike your grasses put up—any grass, every time! In my aviary, the nests are constructed from Pennesetum and Miscanthus grasses and they are brutally ‘ravaged’ in order to construct said nests.

Despite this, the nests themselves can be difficult to spot at times—a trait Napoleons share with Orange Bishops but not Grenadiers. Most of the nests in my aviary are around the tops of the bushes, with only one built about 1m from the ground.

The nest is also lined with finer grasses.

Ours are given November/Blown/Fairy Grass (or whatever name you care to call ‘Bird Grass’) and the nest lined with finer material. Here I must add that Allen recently asked me what mine were using to line the nest once the Swamp Grass lining went in. I told him that they had used a heap of cotton wool, cotton lintas and red Border Collie fur. In fact every nest had the cotton lintas woven into the external part of the nest as well. In three cases the only way I spotted the nest was because of this white cotton. He laughed as it seems a chap had once suggested he was ‘deluded’ for stating they used such materials, so, the picture here will tell a thousand stories.

Since then I have also had two nests go up made from emu feathers, so who knows what these birds will use when they feel like it. So much for the ‘growing grasses only’ purists—that’s the nature of the finch, I guess. The nests are all under 100% roofing, so there’s another urban myth busted, that weavers won’t build/breed in fully-covered aviaries.

Two to three white eggs with faint brown speckling are laid. Mine adopted the adage of ‘if it hatches, we’ll rear it’ (for this season at any rate). I again consulted with Allen on the incubation period and he believed it was around the 11-day mark, with the chicks leaving the nest after a further 11 days. That’s a few days quicker than the Grenadier and a lot shorter time than Orange Bishops.

They appear to be devoted parents and all the chicks that have fledged this season have survived to maturity. Chicks are relatively easy to sex when they leave the nest, as are Grenadier Weavers, in which the feet alone will tell you if they are male or female.

Once there are chicks in the nest, the propensity for live food increases dramatically, with the adult birds anxiously awaiting your arrival at the aviary in order to check what live food goodies you are about to present. To this end, I have taken to using two Resun® AF-2005 Automatic Fish Feeders loaded with mealworms and set to drop at alternate hours in order to ensure they have enough live food when I am at work.

Napoleons leave the nest a little underdone in hotter weather and if you see them belting about on the floor, don’t touch them as they will clamber up into the foliage where their overprotective parents will tend to them. The chicks appear to spend a bit more time on the ground before they clamber up among vegetation, but this could just be that the aviary grasses haven’t thickened up nicely enough just yet. Chicks on the ground are easy to locate as both parents go bananas as soon as you get close to where they are hiding!

I do remember ringing Allen all depressed early in the piece and telling him that the ‘stupid weavers’ had pulled their one and only nest to pieces. He just laughed and suggested ‘look on the floor son!’ Once I started scrabbling around, I located the two chicks that had until recently resided in the wrecked nest. I had no idea that the weavers smashed the nest within hours of the chicks exiting it! All that remains of a few nests in the aviary is a ‘flack-burst’ of cotton lintas to mark the spots.

The Grenadiers I’d bred had reused a nest 2–3 times, so this demolition behaviour was new to me. Allen said Orange Bishops would tear apart old nests too. The exception to this rule is the last nests of the season, which are frequently left intact by both species. Grenadier nests are usually still standing well after the breeding season and are then used by a number of waxbills and other finches.

Green Singers are particularly fond of them to nest in, as are Orange-breasted Waxbills.

CONCLUSION


If you are looking for something a little different, then maybe the Napoleon Weaver is just the species for you. Take heed of the comments regarding housing them with other more timid species, because even if they do not actually attack other species their constant-motion approach during the breeding season may lead to a level of stress that could prevent other species from breeding. Let’s face it, having walked around the back of the grasses only to have a fully puffed up male Napoleon hot on the trail of a very nervous female run straight into you may be too much for some finch species! I know Allen once had them in with a waxbill species until he noticed the latter were all hunkering down in the thickest shrub, too scared to venture out lest they get steamrolled by a demented male Napoleon!

The determined effort of a few very good finchos managed to establish this species with a lot of hard work in putting all the bloodlines we had together in a meaningful way. Let’s strive to maintain and breed these interesting chaps in even greater numbers.

The fate of all our remaining exotic finch species is, after all, in the hands of all of us.
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