Birdwatchers frantic over discovery of rare Pin-tailed Whydah

A few weeks ago, Mr Sreenivas, an avid birdwatcher spotted something that truly surprised him.
A resident bird of the Sahara Desert and the southern region of Africa, the Pin-tailed Whydah was seen in a well known bird watching spot in Oman, surprising birdwatchers and environmentalists across the nation.
Occurring throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa favouring grassland, scrubs and savanna, the Pin-tailed Whydah is 2–13 cm in length, although the breeding male’s tail adds another 20 cm to this. The adult male has a black back and crown, and a very long black tail. The wings are dark brown with white patches, and the underparts and the head, apart from the crown, are white. The bill is bright red. The female and non-breeding male have streaked brown upper-parts, whitish underparts with buff flanks, and a buff and black face pattern. They lack the long tail extension, but retain the red bill. Immature birds are like the female but plainer and with a grey bill.
Bavish KB an IT Tech Support engineer at Mustafa Sultan Office Technology LLC and now a part-time photographer and birdwatcher along with other FSO members took up the challenge to find this rare bird and take the opportunity to capture photographs to add to their collection.
Bavish said, “I went to the park along with my friend Mr Suvi John and after a long search we spotted a male and a female, a breeding Pin-tailed Whydah pair. Before coming to the park, I googled details (about the birds) and watched videos on Youtube and taught myself the call of the bird, not only helping me understand the species and making it easier to find them. After searching far and wide, Suvi and I were tired and sitting in a lawn when the bird came down near to us. A truly surprising moment! We then also spotted a female bird near by. the male Whydah was aggressive to other resident birds, not allowing other birds near his female partner. Treating her like a queen, the male continued his dancing, trying to impress his female counterpart.
A resident bird that is not known to migrate, it is not only surprising but also peaks the interest of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, raising questions — How did this bird make it to Oman and if it did migrate, why?
One of the theories states that it is possible that these birds have escaped from captivity, worryingly the beautiful coloring and the long tail makes the bird prey to illegal trading for people looking to cage beautiful birds. Bavish also added that this was one of the reasons they as a group decided to not share the whereabouts of the pair so they can safely live free and will not become prey to the illegal animal trade.

Other common names
Pintail Widowbird, King’s Whydah, King of Six, Bird of Six, Pied Widowbird

Origin: Africa

Area of distribution
Sub-saharan Africa from Senegal & Sudan south to South Africa.

Favorite foods
Half-ripe seed heads, greens, sliced cucumber with seeds, sprouted seed, insects.

Natural habitat
Open grasslands and savannahs with scattered bushes and trees, especially near water, forest clearings, along tropical rivers, gardens and cultivated areas.

Restless; can be disruptive and somewhat aggressive, especially males in breeding plumage.

Physical descriptions
When in breeding plumage, the male appears as follows: pink to red bill; top of head from lores to nape black; sides of head, base of neck, breast, belly, rump, and undertail coverts white; back, and shoulders black; black wings with broad white band; four ribbon-like (long, narrow & pointed) black central tail feathers; dark blackish legs.
When out of breeding plumage, the male has body markings similar to the hen’s, but has darker streaking. The hen is tawny colored with black stripes on her upperparts and two back stripes over her crown; the middle of her crown, rump, and uppertail coverts are reddish brown. Hens in breeding condition have bolder overall coloration and have blackish upper mandible which becomes more reddish-brown when not breeding.
Juveniles are similar in appearance to the hens, but with buffy feather edges, a duller tone, no white in the tail, and horn-colored bills.

Breeding season
Above the equator, males enter breeding plumage from about May to November; below the equator, breeding plumage occurs between October and June. Timing of breeding activity varies by region.

Whydahs are avian brood parasites and require specific species of finches to raise their offspring. Whydahs do not build their own nests, but rather deposit their eggs in the nests of other species which act as hosts. The host species then raises the whydah chicks alongside their own. Pin-tailed Whydahs are capable of using a number of hosts, in contrast to the other whydah species which are more host-specific. Whydahs do not form monogamous pairs; rather, a male whydah will breed with numerous females, and a female whydah will go on to breed with numerous males in order to spread her eggs over multiple territories. During breeding season, males maintain a territory a little larger than a half-football field in size. Unlike some other species of whydah, the Pin-tailed Whydah does not mimic the song of its host species, perhaps because it is not as host-specific as some other whydahs. The male displays before a hen in a hovering, dancing flight while singing. A single female whydah is estimated to lay around 22 eggs in a breeding season.

About the photographer

Bavish KB is 27-year-old IT Tech Support engineer at the Mustafa Sultan Office Technology LLC and a part-time photographer. In 2011, he worked as assistant photographer to guru KB Girish who was his main inspiration that pushed him into photography.