Quelea – Queleas

Love for the color red and rice fields are two characteristics common in all species

This group of small passerine birds is most famous for the Red-billed Quelea, often dubbed ‘Africa’s most numerous wild bird species,’ known for forming huge flocks that can be so dense as to darken the sky.

Male Quelea are noted for their vibrant plumage during the breeding season. The Red-billed Quelea males, for instance, sport bright red faces with a contrasting black mask and a red bill, resembling lipstick and a mask, hence the colloquial description of “wearing red lip gloss and a black face mask.” The cardinal quelea and red-headed quelea also exhibit bright colors, with variations of red on their heads that stand out in their otherwise brown to yellow bodies. Outside the breeding season, their plumage becomes more muted, resembling the brown, less conspicuous coloring of the females.

Female Quelea are less showy, with more subdued, cryptic plumage that blends into their surroundings, which is beneficial for camouflage while nesting and evading predators.

Queleas are granivorous, with a diet predominantly consisting of grass seeds, and they are known to cause significant damage to grain crops, leading to conflict with farmers. During the breeding season, when protein needs are higher, Quelea parents supplement their chicks’ diets with insects, ensuring their growing offspring receive adequate nutrition.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Quelea birds is their flocking behavior. The Red-billed Quelea, in particular, forms massive, tightly coordinated flocks during migration and when roosting. These flocks can include millions of birds and are considered one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena on the African continent.

Queleas’ migration patterns are closely tied to the availability of food and are influenced by rainfall and seed production. Their movements are less about a fixed seasonal schedule and more about following the rains, which promote the growth of the grasses that provide their primary food source.