10 Oct 2012
Migration Patterns of the Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea) in Southern Africa: Genetics, Morphology and Behaviour

BRANTA — Martin Dallimer

Migration Patterns of the Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea in Southern Africa: Genetics, Morphology and Behaviour

Institution: University of Edinburgh, U.K.
Supervisors: PJ Jones, JM Pemberton
Details: PhD 2001 (Completed)

Address: The Game Conservancy Trust, Drumochter Lodge, Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire, PH19 1AF, Scotland (Nov 2005) Email

Subject Keywords: Population genetics, microsatellites, plumage variation, migration, migratory divide
Species Keywords: Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea



The red-billed quelea Quelea quelea is one of the most abundant birds in the world. Found throughout the drier parts of sub-Saharan Africa, it is a serious pest of grain crops. Better management and control of the red-billed quelea as a pest requires a thorough understanding of its migration patterns. This thesis presents three techniques to analyse the migration patterns of red-billed quelea in southern Africa.

The genetic structure of red-billed quelea from 28 sites across southern Africa was studied using eight polymorphic microsatellite loci. Using indirect molecular evidence no evidence of population division was found. There was no evidence for regular migration pathways or the existence of a migratory divide. However evidence was found for differential dispersal between the sexes. Male quelea dispersed further from their natal flocks than females. In a parentage study, 22.6% of chicks were not related to their social father, while 8.5% of chicks were not related to either of the parents assigned to them by behavioural observations.

The red billed quelea is sexually dimorphic. Across Africa three subspecies have been described based on the variation in male breeding plumage. Two separate techniques were used to analyse this variation: plumage colour was scored using the human eye and colour variation was assessed using the software package Photoshop. Despite a second subspecies having been described for southern Africa, no evidence was found for geographic variation in male breeding plumage patterns.

Red billed quelea migration is determined by the regular patterns of seasonal rainfall. In central southern Africa rainfronts approach from two different directions indicating that a migratory divide could exist for red billed quelea. The direction preferences of red billed quelea ready to migrate were tested in the wild using Emlen funnels. Two distinct migration directions were preferred by red billed quelea indicating the possible presence of a migratory divide. In conclusion, there is no evidence for any population division of red-billed quelea in southern Africa. However, the behavioural evidence suggests that there is more than one migration pattern that quelea follow in the region, which could have implications for quelea management.


Published Papers

Dallimer M., Jones, P.J., Pemberton, J.M., & Cheke, R.A. 2003. Lack of genetic and plumage differentiation across a migratory divide in the red-billed quelea in southern Africa. Molecular Ecology 12: 334-345.
Dallimer M & Jones PJ. 2002. Migration orientation behaviour of the red-billed quelea. Journal of Avian Biology33: 89-94.
Dallimer, M., Blackburn, C., Jones, P.J. & Pemberton, J.M. 2002. Genetic evidence for male-biased dispersal in the red-billed quelea Quelea quelea. Molecular Ecology 11: 529-533.
Dallimer, M. 1999. Cross-species amplification success of avian microsatellites in the red-billed quelea Quelea quelea. Molecular Ecology 8: 695-697.
Cheke, R.A., Jones, P.J., Dallimer M. & Green, S.V. 2003. Armoured Bush Cricket attacks on nestling red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea). Ostrich 74: 135.
Jones, P.J., Dallimer, M., Cheke, R.A., Mundy, P.J. 2002. Are there two subspecies of quelea in southern Africa? Ostrich 73: 36-42.
Branta home
Author index
Species index

Go to Top