Small flocks of mannikins are frequent garden visitors, arriving in a sudden flurry often accompanied by high-pitched chirping. These are very small birds weighing only 10 g (less than half an ounce).

In the breeding season they live in pairs or in small family groups, and when not breeding and throughout the winter they associate in small tightly-knit flocks. In our garden, groups of visiting mannikins are often mixed groups of Red-backed and Bronze Mannikins.

Adult Redbacked Mannikin at bird feeder in a suburban garden, KwaZulu-Natal

Adult Red-backed Mannikins at our winter bird feeder

Bronze Mannikin perching in a suburban garden, KwaZulu-Natal

A Bronze Mannikin, so named because of the bronze-coloured iridescent shoulder patch. Although Roberts (Multimedia edition) says that Bronze Mannikins are tame and easy to approach, I have found them to be wary and flighty, and so difficult to photograph. If one bird in a group takes fright, the entire flock is alerted and takes off in a seemingly single reflex

Mannikins at a bird feeder in a wildlife-friendly garden, South Africa

At our bird feeder Red-backed Mannikins and Bronze Mannikins rub shoulders. The buff-coloured birds are juveniles 

Mannikins form monogamous breeding pairs, with the male collecting fresh grass stems as nesting material and the female building the nest that is in an untidy ball. Pairs have complex courting behaviours that including bobbing and bowing, bill clicking, tongue wagging, and ritualised bill wiping and preening. Both parents participate in raising the young.

Nests are often reused for further broods and may also be used for roosting. Outside of the breeding season, mannikins roost communally, often clumping or huddling together for warmth. There is evidence that dominant birds in the group hierarchy get the warmest places at the centre of the huddle.

Mannikins also build specialised roosting nests that are used communally. These roosting nests are tubular and open at both ends. They are built by groups of birds and may be used over a period of several months.

Adult Redbacked Mannikin

A Red-backed Mannikin, showing off its russet colours for which it is named

Immature Redbacked Mannikin at bird bath

An immature Red-backed Mannikin in the process of attaining its full adult plumage

Buff-coloured juvenile Redbacked Mannikin

A juvenile Red-backed Mannikin, drab in appearance compared to the adults

Redbacked Mannikins foraging on the ground

Mannikins usually forage in groups, often on the ground or from seed heads of grasses. Mannikins are predominantly seed eaters, and food includes grass seeds, supplemented by some fruits, leaves and petals, certain insects and nectar

Redbacked Mannikins at birdbath in suburban garden, KwaZulu-Natal

Red-backed Mannikins at the birdbath. They are dependent on the presence of water

Redbacked Mannikins in a garden pond in South Africa

The mannikins also venture to use the garden pond for both drinking and bathing

Bronze Mannikin at garden pond

And to end, a Bronze Mannikin at the garden pond. This photo has been edited using Photoscape


Sources: Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies, Ingrid Weiersbye. 2016. Roberts Bird Guide: Illustrating nearly 1,000 Species in Southern Africa (2nd edition). Cape Town: Jacana;  Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

Posted by Carol

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