Massive flocks of Red-Billed Queleas are one of the sights of Africa with colonies often including tens of thousands of pairs.
It is quite common to see vast flocks of these gregarious birds swirling around in frenetic aerobatic displays that leave you wondering just how they manage to avoid collisions.
Red-billed Queleas feed mainly on annual grasses, seeds and grain. As soon as the sun comes up, they come together in their huge flocks and go in search of a suitable feeding place. Once located, they settle rapidly and can cause serious damage to crops. In the middle part of the day they rest in shady areas near water and preen. In the evening they once again fly in search of food.
Because of their huge numbers the species is a serious agricultural pest, damaging millions of kilograms of cereal grains each year in Africa.
Despite the fact that there are so many of them, it can be quite challenging to get close enough for a decent photograph and all too often the shot ends up being just a mass of flapping wings as they all take off at once. When I spotted a small flock (only hundreds not thousands) of Queleas descending onto the trees lining the dry riverbed I thought I’d try my luck.
As usual I’d stop to take a photo then creep a bit closer. Things were going pretty well and then all of a sudden they were off.
Enter an African Hawk Eagle
It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t me that had spooked them, they were being hunted.
A juvenile African Hawk Eagle had launched an attack from its perch in a tree on the opposite bank and saw the Queleas as his next meal.
Once the Hawk Eagle was back on his perch, the Queleas settled back down again.
I got ready for his next attack. I didn’t have to wait for long.
Of course the Queleas saw the Hawk Eagle coming and flew up but this seemed to be his plan anyway as he tried to catch them in flight.
On this occasion the Hawk Eagle swooped right in and ploughed straight into the branches. I have no idea whether he was successful or not but the Queleas had had enough and flew off to find somewhere safer.
And who said birds were boring?