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Quelling the Quelea birds

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Publication date
Type of Publication:
Working Papers & Briefs
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Focus Topic:
Health & Diseases
Type of Risk:
Biological & environmental

The red-billed quelea bird, Quelea quelea lathamii, sometimes known as the ‘feathered locust’, is a major pest of small-grain cereal crops throughout semi-arid areas of Africa, attacking millet seed heads, mature sorghum seeds, and other crops. A CPP project on quelea (R7967) has devised a prototype model to predict where and when populations of quelea birds are likely to breed. Forecasts will help the control teams in southern Africa to identify where and when crops are likely to be damaged and to target their operations against nesting colonies more effectively. Hitherto, such planning has been difficult, as quelea birds are long-distance migrants, moving up to 2500 km, in response to the seasonal movements of rain fronts. The onset of rain at the start of the wet season causes their main food, grass seeds, to germinate, forcing birds to perform an ‘early rains migration’ away from their dry season quarters. Over the following 3–4 months the birds then undertake further ‘breeding migrations’ to areas where adequate rainfall will permit them to breed. These further migrations were previously unpredictable, and the model uses rainfall estimates to assist with prediction.