Tan Teo Seng brought me what looked like a larger than usual munia’s nest (1, 2) on 7th July 2008. It had two entrances, one above, the other below. It was inadvertently cut off when his worker did some heavy pruning of his Duranta erecta shrub in his garden in Johor, Malaysia.
The structure was actually two nests, built side by side. The upper was 13 x 19 cm with an opening diameter of 3.5 cm; the lower 12 x 16 cm with a 3 cm opening. Both were ovals, the openings overhung with isolated pieces of grass inflorescence stalks.
After measurements the nests were left on a table in the porch. The top nest was empty as I could see the inside. The bottom nest appeared to be empty also.
In the evening I suddenly heard the chattering of what appeared to be a number of chicks begging for food. The sound appeared to come from the porch roof. As suddenly as it started, the sound ended a few minutes later. I was to hear the chirping on and off the next day. However, I could not locate the nesting area nor see and adult birds approaching to feed the chicks.
On the morning of 9th July, as I was standing by the two nests on the low table, the chirping suddenly started. Again it appeared to come from above. Imagine my surprise when I happened to glance at the nests and saw a chick at the entrance begging for food.
Only then did I realise that the chirping came from one of the two nests. The chicks moved out of the nest entrance to reveal another. The second chick was persuaded to emerge. There was a third but it appeared stuck inside. Only by carefully cutting the nest did I manage to extract it. There were a fourth, a fifth and a sixth. All were crammed inside the 7 x 8 cm nesting space and the cramming obviously caused the sixth and smallest chick to die. The image below (left) shows the five live chicks while the right image the sixth dead chick.
The five chicks were placed in a basin and fed with a liquid mixture of leftover boiled carrot soup. Initially, each chick was hand-held and persuaded to open its bill to accept the liquid food in drops, delivered via a dropper. In subsequent feedings a few of the chicks enthusiastically pushed their throats into the top of the dropper to receive the food.
The chicks were used to huddle together in the tight nest space (bottom left) and when given space to move around in the basin, still huddled together, the larger chicks climbing over the backs of the smaller.
It was easier to feed them thus. As each chick gaped, I was able to place drops of food into its throat. There was always fierce competition to be fed first. All five ate well. After each feed the throat pouch swelled (bottom right).
The scrambling, one on top of the other, apparently caused two other chicks to die on the 10th July, leaving three of the more healthy ones.
Sadly, the remaining three chicks died the next day. Did they die because of the feed? Do they need to be fed solid? Were they weakened because they were left without food during the first two days?
According to Teo Seng, he had earlier observed about six adult munias popping out one by one from the same two nests one evening when he was near the plant. He was not able to confirm from which of the two nests these birds flew out from but he was definite that they flew out of the nest/s. Otherwise all the birds would have flown off together when disturbed.
The literature mention egg dropping by female munias, meaning other females are prone to lay their eggs in an active nest. Normally about six eggs are laid per nest.
Another question that needs to be answered is whether munias roost inside empty nests. And how many birds can a nest accommodate for roosting. Field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng confirms that roosting in empty nests does occur. She further revealed that there may also be nest parasitism but this obviously did not happen here as all six chicks looked alike.