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 Red-backed Mannikins at our winter bird feeder
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
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.
A Red-backed Mannikin, showing off its russet colours for which it is named
An immature Red-backed Mannikin in the process of attaining its full adult plumage
A juvenile Red-backed Mannikin, drab in appearance compared to the adults
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
Red-backed Mannikins at the birdbath. They are dependent on the presence of water
The mannikins also venture to use the garden pond for both drinking and bathing
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 http://www.sabirding.co.za/roberts7/portal.html
Posted by Carol