Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

The World's Most Abundant Bird

There are an estimated 1.5 billion Red-billed Quelea living in Africa
© Johann du Preez CC View Large

An estimated 1.5 billion Red-billed Quelea live in Africa today, making them the most abundant of all wild birds. The sparrow-sized Red-billed Quelea flock together in groups so large, from a distance they appear to be clouds of smoke. Red-billed Quelea are in the weaver family and create tens of thousands of carefully woven nests in their enormous colonies.

Never miss an episode of BirdNote by subscribing to our podcast. Just search for “BirdNote” in your podcast app.

Full Transcript



The World’s Most Abundant Bird

Written by Bob Sundstrom

[Red-billed Quelea flock sounds, ]

In Africa, south of the Sahara, there’s a bird that roams the countryside in flocks—hordes, really—of two million or more. They fly in such tightly synchronized masses they can be mistaken at a distance for clouds of smoke.

[Red-billed Quelea flock sounds, ]

The birds are Red-billed Quelea. It’s estimated there are 1.5 billion of them — making them the most abundant of all wild birds.

[A few Red-billed Quelea singing, , 0.16-20 or more running behind narrative]

The sparrow-sized Red-billed Quelea, which is in the weaver family, has a stout, seed-cracking bill. The birds are mostly brown, but breeding males have red and black feathered heads.

Quelea nest in enormous colonies. A single tree may be hung with hundreds, even thousands, of carefully woven nests. Single colonies can cover hundreds of acres, totaling tens of millions of birds.

Unfortunately, their tastes include cultivated crops, like millet.

In fact, the increased planting of cereal crops over the last fifty years may have dramatically increased the number of quelea.

But setting aside their taste for crops, the sight of a couple million Red-billed Quelea swirling in unison and creating ever-changing patterns in the air is one of nature’s most amazing spectacles.

[flock sounds,]

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

Support for BirdNote comes from the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau. Home to hundreds of species of birds and the Whooping Crane Festival in February. More at


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Linda Macaulay. And by the Xeno Canto Foundation. Recorded by Bram Piot.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2018 Tune In to   October 2018/2019   Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# REBIQU-01-2018-10-17    REBIQU-01


Sights & Sounds

Related topics: