THE GREAT BLACK WEAVER.
Pyrrhula africana nigra, Briss. Orn. iii. p. 317 (1760).
Pyrrhula africana nigra, Briss. Syn. Meth. i. p. 397 (1763).
Le Grand Bouvreuil noir d’Afrique, Buff. Hist. Nat. Ois. iv. p. 385 (1778).
White-winged Grosbeak, Lath. Gen. Syn. iii. p. 144 (1783).
Loxia panicivora, Daud. Trait, d’ Ornith, ii. p. 413 (1800).
Loxia panicivora, Shaw, Gen. Zool. is. p. 283 (1815).
Coccothraustes albirostris, Vieill. Nouv. Dict. xiii. p. 535 (1817).
White-winged Grosbeak, Lath. Gen. Hist. Birds, v. p. 249 (1822).
Coccothraustes, albirostris, Vieill. Encycl. Meth. iii. p. 1008 (1823).
Textor aleeto, Temm. Pl. Col. pl. 446 (1828).
Le Tisserin Aleeto, Cuv. Regn. Anim. p. 407 (1829).
Textor aleeto (Cuv.), Griff. Aves, ii. p. 133. Suppl, p. 232. pl. 16. (1829).
Tisserin aleeto, Less. Traite d’Ornith. p. 434 (1831).
Ploceus aleeto, Rupp. Neue Wirb. Faun. Abyss, p. 100 (1835-40).
Dertroides albirostris, Swains. Nat. Hist. Birds, ii. p. 278 (1836-37).
Textor aleeto, Less. Compl. OEuv. de Buff. ii. p. 303 (1837).
Dertroides albirostris, Swains. Birds, W. Afr. i. p. 163 (1837).
Textor aleeto, Rupp. Syst. Uebers. Vog. N.-Ost.-Afr. p. 76 (1845).
Textor aleeto, Lefebv. Voy. Abyss, vi. p. 111 (1845-50).
Textor aleeto, Gray et Mitch. Gen. Birds, ii. p. 350. pl. 87. fig. 1 (1849).
Textor aleeto, Reichb. Syst. Nat. pl. Ixxvi (1850).
Aleeto albirostris, Bonap. Consp. Gen. Av. p. 438 (1850).
Textor aleeto, Cab. Mus. Hein. i. p. 183 (1850-1).
Textor aleeto, Brehm, Journ, fur Ornith. 1853, p. 98. 1854. p. 76.
Textor alecto, Licht. Nomencl. Av. Mus. Berol, p. 50 (1854).
Atccto panicirora, Hartl. Journ, fur Ornith. 1851, p. 105.
Atccto albirostris, Hartl. Journ, fur Ornith. 1854, p. 105.
Textor atccto, Gray, Gen. et Sub-gen. Birds, p. 70 (1855).
Atccto albirostris, Mull. Journ, fur Ornith. 1855, p. 460.
Textor crythrorhynchus, Horsf, et M. Cat. Birds M. E.-Ind. Comp. ii. p. 521 (1856-8).
Textor alecto, Heugl. Syst. Vogel N.-O.-Afr. p. 37 (1856).
Textor alecto, Hartl. Orn. Westafr. p. 131 (1857).
Textor panicivorus, Hartl. Orn. Westafr. p. 131 (1857).
Alectornis albirostris, Reichb. Singvogel. p. 89. pi. xlv. fig. 330 (1861).
Textor alecto, Hartl. Journ, fur Orn. 1861, p. 176.
Alecto albirostris, Heugl. Journ, fur Orn. 1862, p. 25.
Textor alecto, Heugl. Journ, fur Orn. 1862, p. 405.
Textor alecto, Brehm, Reis. Nord-Ost-Afr. iii. p. 134 (1862).
Textor alecto, Brehm, Reise Habeseh, pp. 217, 337 (1863).
Alecto albirostris, Antin. Cat. di Uccelli, p. 62 (1804).
Textor alecto, Heugl. Journ, fur Orn. 1867, p. 366.
Textor alecto, Heugl. Peterm. Geogr. Mith. p. 413 (1869).
Textor alecto, Finsch, Trans. Zool. Soc. 1870, p. 261
Textor alecto, Gray, Hand-List Birds, p. 40 (1870).
Textor alecto, Blan. Geol. et Zool. Abyss, p. 402 (1870).
Textor alecto, Sharpe, Cat. Afr. Birds, p. 58 (1871).
Textor alecto, Heugl. Ornith. N.-O.-Afr. p. 532. Appen. p. cxxviii. (1871).
Textor atccto, Antin, Viag. Bogos, p. 123 (1873).
Ploceus alecto, Russ, Stubenvogel, i. p. 315 (1879).
Textor alecto, Brehm, Theirl. iii. p. 364 (1879).
Textor alecto, Rocheb. Faun. Senegamb. p. 235 (1884).
Textor albirostris, Shelley, Ibis, 1887, p. 43.
Figures. Temm. Pl. Col. pl. 446. Griff. (Cuv.,) Aves, ii. pl. 16. Reichb. Singvogel, pl. xlv. f. 330.
English. White-billed nut-cracker. African Ox-Bird. White-beaked Alectorne. Weaver Alecto. Ox-Weaver Bird. Great black Weaver. Black Weaver.
French. Le Grand Bouvreuil noir d’ Afrique. Le Gros-bec noir abec blanc. Alectornis a bee blanc. Bouvreuil Panicivore. Tisserin Alecto.
German. Alectoweber. Alectovogel. Weissschnabel-Alectovogel. Weissschnabelige oder Alekto-Webervogel. Der Schwarze Weber.
Abyssinian. (Tigre) Wudscherek.
Habitat. North-Eastern and East Africa, extending its range into Senegambia on the West Coast.
Localities. Kordofan, Sennaar and Abyssinia (Ruppell) White Nile (Arnaud). Samhara, Khartoom (Brehm). Bissao, Galam, Sene¬gambia (Hartlaub). Abyssinia (Harris). Anseba, Sobat, Mareb, Fazoglo (Heuglin). Anseba, Waliko, Bogos (Jesse). Bogos (Antonori). Bathhurst, &c., Senegambia (Rochebrune). Anseba (Esler). N. E. Africa (Kotschy) Nubia and Casamanze (Verreaux). River Gambia (Sharpe).
Male. Black, slightly tinged with brown ; base of feathers greyish white, purer white on the scapulars, sides of chest and sides ; primaries slightly edged with white ; under wing-coverts dull black ; under webs of primaries blackish-brown : iris dark brown ; bill greyish white, tinged with yellow, brown at tip ; legs dark brown : length 9.7, wing 5.0, tail 4.3, tars. 1.25, culm. 1.0. Pl. IV. fig. 1.
Male, Nearly Adult. Similar, not so black ; base of feathers whiter ; white edges of primaries more extended : bill ashy-brown, tip nearly black ; legs dark ashy-brown.
Female. Not so black, more tinged with slaty-grey and brown ; very slight white edges to primaries : bill blackish brown, palest at base ; legs dark brown. Pl. IV. fig. 2.
Young Bird. Dull chocolate brown ; base of feathers greyish white ; outer edges of primaries dirty white : bill and legs ashy-brown.
Obser. Easily distinguished from the preceding species by the under side of the wing and coverts being dull black, instead of white or greyish white.
While collecting the materials connected with the present bird, it became evident from the extremely few localities given (which is the only means of determining the distribution of a species) that it occupied a very limited area, in comparison to the preceding species, T. panicivora.
The latter bird, whatever its origin, inhabits a triangular portion of East and South Africa, from Somali-land across Victoria N’yanza to Benguela on the South West and the whole of the central territories to the East Coast, while this black or more Northern bird, inhabits a large tract of country from Nubia and Abyssinia on the North East to Senegambia in N. West and West Africa, keeping apparently between 10° S. to 17° N. latitude, Capt. Shelley says—“ South from about 16° N. lat.”
The intermediate race taking the central lake country Victoria N’yanza to Shoa in the N. E. and Somali.
The habits and economy of this weaver, are I may say, very similar to the preceding species, living in colonies of no fixed number of indi¬viduals, always selecting high trees in which to construct its rude nest and rear its young, they are said to be a very noisy and quarrelsome congregation, seeking their food on the ground like flocks of starlings.
From among the detailed observations on this peculiar bird, it affords me much pleasure to add a translation of Dr. A. E. Brehm’s account :— “During our journey I found colonies of the great black weaver (Textor alecto) on some high Mimosa-trees in the Samchara. This bird is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary phenomena of his whole species. He is a finch, and yet he resembles the thrush in more than one particular ; he is a Weaver-bird, and builds himself a nest which is much more like that of our magpies than the elegant edifices erected by his relations. He differs from these in cry and in disposition in a more remarkable way than in his appearance.
“One cannot exactly say that the black weaver is a particularly common bird : I have only found him South of the 16° of Northern latitude and there by no means often. He forms settlements wherever he appears ; he is not seen alone. The settlements are not large. I counted three, six, thirteen and eighteen nests on the trees. The tree however must be a fairly large one to carry so many of these curious edifices. Each nest namely is a truly huge structure of three to four feet in diameter. It consists of brushwood and twigs, sometimes of those of the Mimosa, which are used notwithstanding their thorns. The bird weaves and twines these twigs between forked branches so untidily that one can almost see the interior of the nest. From the outside the nest looks like a bristly brush. On one side usually, according to my obser¬vations on the west side, an entrance leads into the interior. This is at first so wide that a fist can enter comfortably, but it becomes gradually narrower till it is a passage just large enough for the bird, thus resembling the entrance to the starling-nests in our cases. The interior of the nest is lined with little roots and grass.
“A tree of nests like this is at certain periods of the year inhabited by an exceedingly noisy company. Near Khartoom I observed that the black weaver breeds at the commencement of the rainy season ; in the Samchara he builds in April ; therefore my previous observations may also apply to him.
“I do not know whether our birds make as much noise during the remainder of the year as they do in the breeding season. The settlements I became acquainted with were noticeable at a long distance owing to the screaming of the birds. Their voices are very loud and many-toned. During a few minutes I spent under a tree I wrote down the following sounds. One of the male birds began : “Ti, it, terr, terr, terr, sen, zaili,” another answered : “Gai, gai, zai,” a third uttered the sounds “Girik, guik, guk, guk, gai.” Others screamed : “Gu, gu, gu, gu, gai,” and a few listened intently. They behaved like a swarm of bees. Some came, others went, and it seemed almost as if all the grown fledglings had also collected on the tree ; for the large number of birds did not correspond with the few nests.
“The flight of the black weaver is very easy and hovering and is marked by slow flappings of the wings. The wings are carried very high. His run is quick and nimble and the bird is also an adept at climbing.”
Herr T. von Heuglin says—“I hold the bright-billed Textor to be a bird of passage in North-East Africa, who arrives with the first summer rains, and when the breeding season is over wanders in large companies about the pasture-grounds and steppes, and then disappears in December. I have not seen him at any great height on the mountains. He is to be met with in the coast lands of Abyssinia, in the Anseba-territory, in Barka, on the Mareb as far up as Serawi, in Sennaar and in Kordofan, also on the White Nile and on the Sobat. We found them breeding there (Samchara) in August and September, and in East Sennaar and Kordofan in July and September. Each colony has a nesting-place partitioned off, of which several are often seen on a large Adansonia, Sycamore, Soap-or Acacia-tree. The nest-places are used for several years ; the structure itself consists of an irregular-shaped mass of coarse, dry bits of wood and twigs of trees, which are heaped up on forked and horizontal branches at a height of 15 to 30 feet, and form a pile of 5 to 8 feet in length and 3 to 5 feet in width. In such quarters an isolated company of 3 to 8 pairs build, and each pair forms therein its own dwelling, like the sparrow in the stork’s nest, and fairly deep down in the interior. This nest is thickly and cleverly lined with fine grass, rushes, small roots and wool, and con¬tains three to four eggs, coloured much like those of the house-sparrow, with rather thick rough shells, of a blunt egg shape 11.13 lines long and 8.1/2-9 in diameter. The young with their big heads and large hanging bellies have an ungainly appearance, are half-naked and very greedy. The old ones too, have much dirt among their feathers, are quarrelsome and noisy as sparrows, and often mix with thrushes, with whom they wander about the cattle pastures. Their food consists of fruits, grain, beetles, and the smaller kinds of chafers, grass-hoppers, etc., and also as it seems of parasitic insects, which they find on the cattle. I also often saw them hunting for chafers among the offal. In the morning whole colonies of them may often be heard chattering and screaming. A quantity of food is brought to the young ones. When shot they defend themselves bravely with their strong bills, and their bite draws blood.”
Dr. O. Finsch, in his paper “On Birds from North-Eastern Abyssinia and the Bogos Country,” published in the ‘ Proceedings of the Zoological
Society’ for 1870, gives the following particulars respecting this species which was obtained by Mr. W. Jesse, during the late Abyssinian Expedi¬tion. “Iris brown ; beak light horn-colour at the tip, base thickly covered with a white rough coating, apparently not horn, and rather soft ; legs and feet dirty grey.
“I only procured and observed this bird on the Anseba ; it was not very plentiful. Mr. W. T. Blanford shot one without the white rough covering at the base of the beak, possibly a young bird. Those seen were in company with a flock of Lamprocolius chalyboeus. Perhaps the peculiarity about the base of both mandibles may be better described as excrescences.”
I here add Mr. W. T. Blanford’s notes—"I saw this bird only on the Anseba. It is quite Starling-like in its habits and flight, and belongs, I think, to this family rather than to the Fringillidoe. I frequently saw it associating with Lamprotornis oencus, Lamprocolius chalyboeus, L. chrysogaster, hunting for insects on the ground, especially about cattle pens. The massive nests are not unlike those of Sturnopaster contra. All which I saw were in high Acacia-trees, but the breeding season was over long before July.”
The plant in this plate is Tinnca ccthiopica from Tropical Africa. Specimens examined.
No. Sex. Mus. Locality. Length. Wing. Tail. Tars. Culm.
1 Male E. B. ? 9.7 5 4.3 1.25 1
2 ? E. B. Bogos, Abyssinia (Jesse). 9.55 5 4.35 1.2 0.95
3 Female E. B. Senegal 8.5 4.45 4 1.1 0.85
4 Female G. E. Shelley. N. E. Africa (Kotschy). 8.6 4.45 4.15 1.1 0.9
5 jun. G. E. Shelley. Anseba (Esler). 8.8 4.25 3.75 1 0.8
The figures (Plate IV. fig. 1. 11) are taken from Nos, 1 and 3, in my collection, 3/4 size.