Africa’s most common finch is a major pest. In Botswana a new test is being done to try and get rid of the bird

17 Dec
The Red billed quelea finch is a major crop destroyer of both commercial and rural crop farmers in Africa. Photographer

The quelea finch is a major crop destroyer for both commercial and subsistence crop farmers throughout Africa.

The quelea finch is a weaver bird and nest are built that virtually drip off trees. Photo Alastair Rae

The red-billed quelea finch ( Quelea q.lathumini ) belongs to the weaver family and every year millions of nests are built that virtually drip off trees. Photo Alistair Rae

In Botswana pilot tests are being done using falconery to try and get rid of the species from commercial wheat and sorgum crop areas. Photo FC Botha

In northern Botswana a pilot test has been done using falconry to try and get rid of the species. Photo FC Botha

Every year thousands of tons of  wheat , millet and sorghum is lost  as a result of millions of queleas, devouring crops both from commercial and subsistence farmers. It is estimated that there are 1.5 billion of these birds in southern Africa alone and flocks ranging from 1 million to 5 million have been recordered. A flock of 5 million can consume 50 tonnes of grain a day.

In northern Botswana an interesting new and novel, non-chemical way, was piloted to try and get rid of the bird. In a place called Pandamatenga ( which is 150 km south of the world famous Chobe river and Game Reserve near Kasane ) more than 100,000 hectares is currently being commercially farmed for both wheat and sorghum. Every year just before harvest time in March / April millions of quelea decend on the crops and help themselves. Normally pesticides are sprayed over roosting places and petrol bombs are ignited below them to cull the flocks.These extreme methods are naturally very controversial and costly.

Mr. Michael Matsila .Agronomy officer at Botswana Minitry of Agriculture. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Mr. Michael Matsila. Agronomy officer at Botswana Ministry of Agriculture. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Mr.Michael Matsila, an agronomy officer with the department of agriculture in Botswana recently shared an interesting story with the RFCG. In 2013 a Megan Stewart, who is a young American falconer, proposed an outline to try and get rid of queleas using an eco-friendly and cost saving approach. Quelea are known to be very predictable and will feed from sunrise to late morning and then return again from 3 pm to sunset. In 2014 using an allocated 100 hectare test area, to fly her Lanner falcon, Megan was successfully able to scare off the quelea, to search for alternative food supplies. Using the fear factor of her raptor , every day twice a day for a number of weeks, Megan’s test showed that 97% of the test area grain was saved whereas the unprotected area lost 70% of its yield.

Known as the Bird Abatement Concept it is still very much in its infancy, and again quite controversial. Needless to say Megan’s success has attracted the attention of Botswana Ministry of Agriculture. Plans to ramp up the project is currently being considered with the various government departments as well as being discussed with BirdLife Botswana.

For the project to be a success both subsistence  and large scale commercial farmers must benefit. Photo Eelco Meyjes

For the project to be classified a success both large scale commercial farmers plus the thousands of subsistence farmers must all benefit. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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