The Bronze Mannikin is a well-known and much-loved garden bird in the eastern regions of South Africa. It has also established itself in Gauteng and in small populations in other places such as Cape Town. Many people know it as a “Fret”, especially non-birders.
They are quite cute birds, especially when they snuggle up to each other on a branch. Generally, they will visit your garden in small flocks, perhaps numbering 30 birds, except during the breeding season when they tend to scatter and will be seen in ones or twos. They nest during summer and make an over-sized, untidy nest in a bush or a tree. They gain access to the nesting chamber via a side entrance. Up to 6 eggs may be laid and are incubated by both male and female. A clutch size between 3 and 5 is the norm. They both share the duty of feeding the chicks for around 3 weeks.
Once these birds find a garden that puts out seed then they will be there every day! They crowd bird feeders, even standing on top of each other at times. Besides seed they do eat insects and bits of plant material. Quite often you can see Bronze Mannikins feeding on the seed of grass on road verges. They hang on the long stalks which in turn bend over from the weight of these tiny birds.
Differences between a Bronze Mannikin and Red-backed Mannikin
Bronze Mannikins are one of the smallest birds to visit bird feeders and can’t really be confused with any other species, except for the Red-backed Mannikin. Red-backed Mannikins may also visit gardens but less commonly than their bronze cousins. In my garden in Durban, I used to get both species, sometimes at the same time. The Red-backed Mannikin is reddish on its back and has a neater colouration overall. The Bronze Mannikin is brown on the back and looks a bit scruffy.