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quelea

quelea (kwē´lēə), common name for an East African weaverbird, Quelea quelea. Less than 5 in. (13 cm) long and weighing slightly more than 1/2 oz (1.4 grams), these tiny birds are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa in areas receiving less than 30 in. (76 cm) of annual rainfall.

With the spread of grain farming and irrigation, they have extended their natural habitats, generally picking new breeding grounds every year. Highly mobile, they often descend in a locustlike manner upon fields and in flight may indeed be mistaken for locusts. Queleas are often found in concentrations of more than a million birds; such a flock can destroy up to 60 tons of grain in a single day, consuming half and knocking the rest to the ground. Hence, they are hunted aggressively with poisons and fire, but, as with locusts, to little effect.

Queleas nest in thick thornbushes and trees; a colony may cover up to 4 sq mi (10.4 sq km). The males build the simple grass nests, and a single thatched nest may house hundreds of females and their young, with only a few highly polygamous males. Queleas are persistent and prolific breeders, beginning as early as nine months of age. In addition to grain, queleas also feed on insects and, in the dry season, strip the leaves from trees. The size of their groups is sufficient to break branches and flatten plants. Queleas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Ploceidae.

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Ploceidae

Ploceidae (weavers, sparrows, bishops, whydahs; class Aves, order Passeriformes) A family of small, stocky birds that have short, stout bills. The weavers (e.g. Ploceus, of which there are about 56 species, many kept as cage birds) are mainly black with yellow, red, or brown. Sparrows are mainly brown. Some members of the genus Euplectes (bishops and whydahs) have long tails. Many ploceids are gregarious, inhabit forest, grassland, desert, urban areas, and cultivated land, and feed on seeds and insects. Many build elaborate woven nests, suspended from trees, with a long entrance tunnel. Others build untidy nests in trees, grass, and buildings. Some are parasitic and most are colonial. Passer domesticus (house sparrow), one of 18 species in its genus, is particularly associated with humans. Rock sparrows (five species of Petronia) inhabit open, rocky country, bush, and forest. There are 17–19 genera, comprising 145 species, many kept as cage birds (e.g. Euplectes), found in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific islands. Quelea quelea (red-billed quelea) is the most numerous bird in the world, numbering thousands of millions.

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Quelea quelea

Quelea quelea (red-billed quelea) See PLOCEIDAE.

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