Little balls of fire

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

GREETINGS everybody, welcome to another Chirp!

How many of you remember the song, Great Balls of Fire? No, this week’s Chirp is not about rock ‘n roll or great balls of fire, but rather about little balls of fire. In the birding world, especially in our area, few birds fit that description, but our bird of the week does… the southern red bishop.

This favourite among many is closely related to the weavers, albeit smaller. The males are unmistakeable in their glowing, fiery summer plumage of orange-red crown, neck and back, black face and belly and brown wings, while the female is a rather nondescript brown all over, with darker streaking on the chest.

SUMMER PLUMAGE: The southern red bishop male is easily identifiable Picture: TIM COCKCROFT
SUMMER PLUMAGE: The southern red bishop male is easily identifiable Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

During the breeding season, they nest in reed beds, and although they do so in colonies, each pair has a territory. The males display to their lady-loves by puffing their feathers out and flying over the reed beds, looking very much like the aforementioned “fireballs”. This display is accompanied by a soft, dry, swizzling call. If other males get too close to the respective territories, they are chased off in a heated argument.

After the breeding season, the flames are doused, quenched, put out, finish and klaar… and the males lose their bright colours, ending up looking like their wives – dull and not so hot. The southern red bishop is not always confined to reedbeds. I have seen them in farmlands, gardens and even in fairly dry habitats.

There you have it for this week, folks. Please remember I am available for birdwatching tours in and around the Port Alfred area. You can contact me on 072-314-0069 for more information regarding that. Until next time, stay well and happy birding!


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