The pin-tailed whydah are beautiful and quite fascinating. During mating season, the males grow large tail feathers up to twice as long as their bodies. They attract their mate by flapping their wings and dangling their long tails. After they mate, the male sets off to find another female to breed with and the female lays eggs in another bird’s nest! The female whydah has offspring but doesn’t feed or raise them.
These birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. The whydah’s original habitat is in Oiudah (pronounced why-dah), Benin. The whydah is also a phonetic representation of Vidua, Latin for widow. It is called a widow bird because of its extra long tail that looks like a widow’s long black veil and train.
These birds are considered parasitic because they trick other birds to care of their offspring. While the birds don’t look like parasites, they are considered as such because they trick other bird species into supporting the whydah brood along with their own offspring and over time, it takes a toll on the host birds.
The host-parasite relationship is strong and mimics the color of the lining of the nestlings’ mouths If foster birds find spots in the whydah babies’ mouths in what is known as a gape pattern recognition. The whydah are smart and are known to switch hosts when they find that their babies are being underfed.
As beautiful as they are, the whydah that are acquired as pets are not good companions. The males lose their tail feathers when they are not breeding and begin picking on their females. It is why these birds are sometimes released into the wild. If enough of these birds are released or escape while being transported, if host birds are found, the whydah could find a home in warm climes like California (especially Los Angeles), Texas, Florida, etc. Over the last century the birds successfully colonized Puerto Rico.
Klein, Joanna. “This Beautiful Parasitic Bird Could Soon Turn Up in Your Yard.” New York Times (New York, NY), June 29, 2017. Accessed August 5, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/29/science/pin-tailed-whydahs.html.
Mulvihill, Robert. “Let’s talk about birds: Paradise whydah.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 15, 2016. Accessed August 5, 2017. http://www.post-gazette.com/life/my-generation/2015/09/16/Let-s-talk-about-birds-Paradise-Whydah/stories/201509160035.