Weaving Warp and Weft


If you’ve ever stopped to wonder how the rug on the floor doesn’t fray, how the shirt on your back holds together, how muscles and ligaments interlock, how the cells and the very fabric of life is coiled and bound into ever more complex cells and organisms, you might well spare a philosophical thought for the weaver bird.

Life, so it was proven in the 1950s by some diligent scientists a laboratory with an x-ray and several dozen clamp stands, is inherently the interlacing of strand after strand of genetic material, a warp and weft, odds and ends: formation, creation, and mutation into species rich and strange; the unprecedented from bits of nothing much. So too the weaver’s nest.

Armed with a blueprint and building skills learned from an ancestral, immemorial, memory, and with only the occasional argument, these remarkable birds spin their homes each year. With all the precarious, bobbing, foundation of a hanging twig or stalk of adrenaline grass, they tangle strands of pliable, easily worked, new grass into hallowed hollowed home. Their architecture, while mostly uniform within species, varies vastly across the genus divide, from the messy thatch of the buffalo to the market ready basket of the southern masked. The male lays the outer framework in a bid to attract a mate, the plucked green grass quickly stiffening in the sun to forming a surprisingly stable structure; should it please his intended, she’ll make the house a home with feathers, soft fine grass, and leaves. All bits of nothing much, fluff and stuff, engineered to make an architectural marvel, replete with a spacious bedroom, antechamber, and very smart front door.

Those familiar with the bush will smile at the ubiquitous sight and sound of a colony in full hustle and hassle: dozens of nests, some fallen into disuse and disrepair, but on the whole immaculate. There have been multiple studies carried out by ornithologists trying to determine the preferred orientation of a colony in a given tree. In a couple of centuries, all they have been able to decisively say is that it’s dependent on a number of factors, usually westerly or north-westerly to stay cooler out of the direct path of the sun, but also very much predicated on the prevailing winds and humidity…

To think, people use “bird brain’ as an insult…

Words by Tara Vivian-Neal

Image by Guide John Kalidza

Check Availability