Red-billed quelea are small birds and average-sized weaver-finches. They grow to 11?13 cm (4.3-5.1 in) long and attain a weight of 15 to 20 g (0.5-0.7 oz). During the breeding stage, the adult male is distinguished by his more colorful plumage and red bill. Breeding plumage in male queleas is unusually variable: comprising a facial mask which ranges from black to white in color, and breast and crown plumage which varies from yellowish to bright red. For the rest of the year both males and fledged non-breeding birds have plumage that resembles that of the adult female, which is overall a cryptic beige and cream coloration. The female's bill is yellow during breeding, and red during the non-breeding season. Red-billed quelea live and breed in huge flocks which can take up to 5 hours to fly past. They live mostly in steppe and savanna regions, but do not avoid human settlements. While foraging for food they may fly large distances each day without tiring. Their life expectancy is two to three years.
Habitat and Distribution
The distribution area of the red-billed quelea covers the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding deep portions of rain forest in central Africa. It is also generally absent from the southern portion of South Africa.
The food of the red-billed quelea consists of annual grasses, seeds and grain. As soon as the sun comes up, they come together in their huge flocks and co-operate in finding a suitable feeding place. After a successful search, they settle rapidly and can cause serious damage to crops. In the middle part of the day they rest in shady areas near water and preen. Birds seem to prefer drinking at least twice a day. In the evening they once again fly in search of food.
Breeding is localized and erratic but often colonies include tens of thousands to millions of pairs. The breeding season begins with the seasonal rains, which come at different times in different parts of their range - starting at the north-western edge around the beginning of November. The breeding males first weave half-complete ovoid nests from grass and straw. After the female has examined the construction and the mating has occurred, both partners complete the weaving of the nest. The female lays two to four light blue eggs, and incubates them for twelve days. After the chicks hatch, they are nourished for some days with caterpillars and protein-rich insects. After this time parents change to feeding the nestlings mainly seeds. The young birds fledge and become independent enough to leave their parents after approximately two weeks in the nest. They are sexually mature after just one year, but many birds die before reaching this stage and males may weave nests that go unused if the female dies.