The Grenadier or Red Bishop Weaver, (Euplectes orix orix), is a
bird from the continent of Africa that has endeared itself to a host of
Australian finch breeders. This weaver is a contrast in temperaments - from
the full on aggression of the male in full breeding plumage to the
out-of-colour male that disappears into the background of your aviary. The
Grenadier is a sparrow-sized bird of around 15cms in length. It has two
phases to its plumage depending upon the season.
Eclipse Plumage: Here the male and female resemble each other in being a
uniform brown colour with blackish flecking on the head and body. Above each
eye is a pale yellow stripe that is usually more pronounced in the male. The
beak is horn-coloured with some male's beaks retaining a blackish tinge
throughout the year. The male is usually slightly larger than the female and
often has larger, thicker legs. When in eclipse plumage the males and
females will often be seen together more frequently than during the nuptial
During this stage the female remains exactly the same
as during the eclipse phase whereas the male undergoes what could only be
termed a complete metamorphosis! From that inoffensive bird sitting calmly
amongst the aviary foliage to a red and black homicidal maniac! The first
sign that 'something is a foot' is the constant broken hissing and cackling
that can be heard issuing from parts of the aviary's foliage. Your drab
brownish bird now undergoes a transformation. The breast and area
surrounding the beak and eye becomes a dark black whilst the head, throat,
neck and tail becomes either an orange to a deep red colour.
Not content with this colour change he also puffs himself up
to double his size and 'floats' through the trees like a red and black
cotton ball emitting the, by now familiar, chorus of squeaks and hisses.
Anyone requiring a more descriptive account of these plumage changes might
find Russell Kingston's book 'Keeping and Breeding Finches and Seed-Eaters'
I guess what everyone is keen to know is WHEN these colour
changes take place. Unfortunately, there is no set answer to that question
because it depends upon where you live in Australia. Here in Tasmania males
colour from about October onwards whereas I believe that they may colour
earlier further north. I have a 17 year-old male that colours in September,
mates with as many hens as possible, then sits around for the rest of the
breeding season allowing the younger males to 'take their pick' of the
females - and some say they are 'dumb creatures of habit'! By rule of thumb
they are sparrows during your winter and in colour for spring and summer.
| Fig.1. Coloured Male.
Juveniles: Young weavers resemble the hen with males generally having
larger feet and bigger heads. Males usually take 2 years to fully colour up
but I have produced 2 birds that have coloured within 12 months. The first
of these was the first weaver I had ever bred and coloured to the deepest
red I have seen in a weaver (in those under 20 years old that is!). Some
have suggested that I don't know what I'm talking about but my friends saw
it colouring and since this they have also had a male colour at 12 months.
Young males will hiss and cackle out of colour and some will even start to
weave. In my experience I have never seen hens do this.
The grenadier is not fussy and will exist quite happily on the
average finch mix with a little extra plain canary added. Some show a great
love for fresh seeding grass heads whereas others will not be interested.
Others enjoy supplements like finch soft food and dry egg and biscuit but
others will not touch them. The same can be said for soaked seed but a
friend 's birds are really fond of soaked and slightly sprouted wheat seeds.
During the breeding season live food is essential for success
and most weavers will consume some during the winter months. We feed ours
hulled oats over the colder months. Weavers are really an ideal bird because
the only time that you need to worry about them is the 4-5 months when they
are breeding, the rest of the time they require no upkeep at all - unlike
some of their smaller cousins!
Health: The Grenadier is one of the toughest birds going around as
regards ailments. They are rarely ill and the extremes of our weather have
little effect on them. I have had a hen that was 26 years old and, apart
from colouring like a male, she was in perfect condition! As an aside be
careful of purchasing weavers during the winter as you may find that some
unscrupulous people will send you a VERY old hen weaver that will show male
traits come breeding season - usually a black colouration to the face.
All birds are treated for tape and gizzard worm using the
appropriate wormer and dosed for coccidia using Baycox. If you are obtaining
your birds from warmer, humid climes I suggest you also consider a treatment
for protozoal parasites. Given the weaver's propensity for live food a
strict worming regime would appear common sense for this species. Egg
binding can be a problem down here and appropriate preventative programs
should be instituted throughout the year. They appear to relish picking
through fresh shell grit.
Behaviour: For such a large bird they are remarkably gentle on other
small grassfinches and waxbills. When in eclipse plumage they are timid, shy
and, in my experience, wouldn't hurt anything apart from the odd mealworm.
At breeding time they are certainly VERY intolerant of other males and tend
to fight with green singers if they are in the same flight. Most finches
avoid the displaying males (as do many female weavers too!) yet I have never
witnessed any overt aggression in the aviary situation. However, like most
finches, they have an intense dislike of Golden Song Sparrows and I have
seen them (in a holding flight) 'sneak' along the perch, grab a Song Sparrow
and flick it off the perch!
Before you mentally cross them off your wish list as a 'nasty
big bird' I will relate an incident that may change your mind. The
Orangebreasted Waxbill loves to use the abandoned weaver nests to raise
their own youngsters in and will reline them whenever possible. However,
this pair of Orangebreasts couldn't wait for the weavers to finish with the
nest so they started lining it as the weaver was finishing it! The male
weaver puffed himself up at the entrance to his own nest and made
'threatening' noises at the hen ensconced inside. The hen Orangebreast poked
her head out of the nest and pecked the male weaver between the eyes and
retreated back inside. Our big tough weaver started to weave another nest
some 1/2 metre away from the nasty Orangebreasts!!! Compare the difference
The species is polygamous and each male will breed with 2-4
hens. Occasionally hens will pull the bottoms out of other nests so you may
need to be alert for this behaviour if you have several hens. As a note we
always put 2 males in the breeding aviary after experiencing the phenomena
of a fully coloured male refusing to build nests. The added competition from
another male appears to stimulate breeding - after they decide who is king
of the castle of course! I have never had males kill each other although I
have seen some males show quail-like tendencies for a few weeks! Just ensure
you put both males in at the start of the season and don't introduce a new
male when the hens are sitting. Doing this would probably lead to eggs on
the floor and a dead male!
Breeding: The key to breeding weavers is rainfall. If you don't have the
spring and summer rain then you are in real trouble with this bird. Even
here in Tasmania (the second driest state) I have gone 6 years without any
breeding during extended periods of drought. If you have a watering system
on your aviary you will probably be OK, but that is difficult on tank water!
Once your male weaver has decided upon where he is going to build his nest
he will begin to strip the foliage around the nest so that it is in plain
view. If, like me, you spent a small fortune on bamboo's and other
ornamental shrubs then you are in for heartbreak. My bamboo's lasted 2
The trees that we have found the best have been the Genistas
(the large one rather than the dwarf variety), brooms and some of the
melaleucas. The Genista is my favourite as the weavers can strip every leaf
off the tree and, during the winter months, your tree will regenerate as
good as ever. The bamboo's are just a picture in an album but the Genista
To construct their nest the males will use any green grass
and ours are given a local tussock grass (Poa billardieria) or they make use
of the feather grass type blades growing in the cage. When the nest is
complete the female will line it out with cotton wool, lintus or finer swamp
grass pieces. Usually 2-3 beautiful blue eggs are laid and the hen alone
attends to incubation while the male does his best to frighten anything away
from the breeding tree.
Some hens are not responsive to nest inspection while most
couldn't care less. I once picked up 2 eggs from the aviary floor and placed
them into a clutch of 3 and the hen hatched and reared all 5 chicks - that
was after some MAJOR renovations to their tiny nest! When the chicks are
hatched the live food consumption increases markedly. Ours are fed
mealworms, cultured maggots, crickets and moths. If you have the time they
relish small spiders too. When fed crickets the hen will remove the head,
thorax and all the legs and deposit the entire body down the throat of a
nestling, returning to the live food bowl until all chicks have scored a
cricket. I have found that it is imperative that the hens have access to
unlimited live food for at least the first week after hatching.
The hens are usually excellent parents and if they abandon
their chicks it is most likely your fault - not enough live food or your
curiosity is far too great! The chicks leave the nest at around 18-21 days
and are often only just able to fly - during periods of very hot weather
they will often try to leave earlier. It is often necessary to pick them off
the floor and replace them in their nest on cooler evenings.
When the chicks leave the nest the male can become very protective and I
have one that will fly right up to you and hiss in your face. He leaves you
in no doubt that you should leave his offspring alone! The hen alone feeds
the chicks and I have never witnessed a male feeding them. My males show no
aggression to their own young or other males chicks, just remove the surplus
males before next season! You should expect 3-4 nests from each of your
females during the season. Once the weavers abandon their breeding other
finches will take over their old nests - especially Orangebreasts and Green
Fig.4. Planted Aviary for Weavers.
Fig.5. Woven Nest.
Mutations: The only mutation that I am aware of is a yellow variation.
Generally yellow feathers replace the red/orange areas of the male. Most of
these birds are a dull yellow and are very distinctive. I swapped a 'hen'
with another breeder only for him to tell me that his 'hen' was a very small
yellow male! He selected this bird from several others due to its size and
it was, apparently, vivid lemon rather than the usual drabber yellow.
Unfortunately he lost it before I could see it in colour. We have been told
many 'tall tales and (maybe) truths' about the derivations of this mutation
but we have never seen a yellow hen to date. Several experiments with this
mutation suggest that the males may be infertile so, our advice, is to keep
them to look at but don't waste your time trying to breed from them. Maybe
someone can prove us wrong - good luck!!
Once you have kept the Grenadier Weaver you will find it
hard to ever be without them. Their majestic displays and colour changes are
reason alone to include them in your finch collection. In fact I know of
some people that just keep the males to watch them weave and display. I have
kept them with a variety of finch species and have never witnessed them
showing overt aggression to other aviary inhabitants. If 'non-believers '
ever visit your aviaries it is the full coloured grenadier that hold their
attention as they stare open-mouthed at their nuptial antics.
To finish, just a few points about these birds. If you are
either sending or receiving these birds it is imperative that the box has a
padded roof as they will jump up and down in the one spot until their head
is a bloody mess. They are not suited to cages and are better held in
holding aviaries where they have more freedom. When first caught they are
prone to stress or 'sulk' for a day or so and are best placed on an
electrolyte replacement program. Once they are placed out into your aviary
you have one of the best and hardiest finches you could ever hope for. As
regards legislation I believe that they can be kept without permits in most
states of Australia.
However, 'down here in Tasmania' we require permits to keep
them for fear of them turning feral and descending en mass into the local
grain fields. Given our winter temperatures we feel that the chances of them
establishing a feral population would be slim indeed. At the least they
would be easy to catch - you would just have to chip their frozen legs off
the branch they were stuck to!! So if you have a spare aviary and you are
looking for a species to put into it do yourself a huge favour and purchase
a pair or two of grenadiers but beware, they are definitely habit forming.
Written by Marcus Pollard - Published in Australian Birdkeeper