Playful Leopards Expose Waxbill Nest

Sabi Sand | June 2020

I made a small discovery, a discovery none the less! We were entertained by the antics of the Schotia leopardess and her cubs playing on the Southern bank of the Sand River between Ebony and Boulders Lodge. The family of felines were suspected close to the lodge because of their calls and we managed to locate them running around, jumping into trees and pouncing on each other in the long grass close to a small pond.

As we observed their behaviour close to the pond, I saw a small colourful bird land on a tall blade of grass, chirp and then it disappeared. When the leopards moved away and the bird returned, I realised what I was looking at…. it was an orange-breasted waxbill, dressed in with its sulphur yellow belly, grey back, orange breast and red beak, vent and eye stripe! Both adults made an appearance and were in fact entering a nest above the small pond of water.

These small birds aren’t common in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and primarily occur in areas of moist grasslands, sedges and reed beds. We sometimes see them in the South Western areas around the pans or in times when the grasslands are lush and they land on the roads to feed on the grass seeds.

Orange-breasted waxbills seldom build a nest from scratch, preferring to use old nests of weavers, bishops, widowbirds, cisticolas and prinias. Nests are usually reconstructed by males and lined with fine grass ends, leaves and feathers by females. Egg laying can occur between January and June and their clutch size varies from three to nine eggs, laid in one day intervals. The incubation period is about two weeks and is completed by both sexes at shift intervals of eighteen to seventy minutes. The nestling and fledging period can commence for about eighteen days after brooded and being fed by both sexes.

The next couple of weeks will be exciting watching the nest and seeing if these birds will be successful at rearing their young. It’s also great knowing that sometimes these birds do frequent the most obvious areas. Another great find with the help of our large cats!

Photographs by Marc Eschenlohr