Misguided feathered visitor from Africa

The quelea is a sparrow-sized bird, common in huge flocks in many areas of Africa.
The quelea is a sparrow-sized bird, common in huge flocks in many areas of Africa.

Leader reader Dennis Collie has sent us this photograph of a rare bird in the UK, spotted in Stonehaven during the recent windy weather.

Dennis told the Leader: “Was it coincidence that we spotted a red-billed quelea at our bird table the day after we had winds blowing in from the Sahara?

“Such a bird found in Scotland would normally have escaped from captivity, but is it possible that on this occasion it was carried all the way from Africa by the high winds?

“Spotting the bird I quickly reached for my camera, only to find the battery dead, but managed to find another poorer quality one and get a couple of shots before the quelea, fed, flew off. As can be seen from the picture, the quelea is a sparrow-sized bird, common in huge flocks in many areas of Africa.

“Our example was probably a non-breeding bird, with light underparts, striped brown upper parts, flight feathers edged in pale green, a reddish bill, orangey legs and a yellowish wash on the head and breast.

“It is thought to be the most numerous non-domesticated bird on earth, possibly totalling one-and-a-half billion individuals and frequently seen feeding in flocks of millions, earning it the name ‘Africa’s feathered locust’.

The office bird book says: “Although quelea prefer the seeds of wild grasses to those of cultivated crops, their huge numbers make them a constant threat to fields of sorghum, wheat, barley, millet and rice.

“The average quelea bird eats around 10 grams of grain per day - roughly half its body weight - so a flock of two million can devour as much as 20 tons of grain in a single day.

“With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is reckoned the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea are in excess of US$50 million annually.

“Quelea populations are notoriously robust; millions of birds are killed every year, but reducing their numbers is somewhat problematic - they are highly mobile, have few natural predators and breed extremely fast.”