Red-billed Quelea, Etosha National Park

NOVEMBER 2006 – A swarm of Red-billed Quelea takes a stop for a drink at the Moringa Waterhole in the Etosha National Park, Namibia. © Mark Zanzig/

The story behind the image

We had safely arrived at the Halali Restcamp in the Etosha National Park. After moving into our room we headed for the waterhole. The sun was about to set soon, and waterholes are interesting places, at all times. The sun was about to set soon, and we sat down to enjoy the scene. There were no animals when we arrived, but it was silent – just us and the natural sounds of the wilderness.

And then, all of a sudden, the silence was disturbed (in a positive way) by hundreds, if not thousands, of small birds. They gathered next to the waterhole, and every minute more birds appeared and settled down on the nearby trees at first.

They were sitting there rather silent. Every now and then they started to fly in big flocks around and across the waterhole. Apparently, they wanted to drink some water, but were not brave enough to try it alone. Interesting and smart little birds.

The Red-billed Quelea can be found in bush, grassland, cultivation and savannah. Their flocks can contain hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions of individuals – devastating cereal crops. That’s why farmers think that it is the greatest avian agricultural pest in the region. They can roost in such massive numbers that they actually break tree branches. Seeing them in massive numbers is a remarkable experience: the birds form into dense, highly synchronised flocks which look like clouds of smoke, and then, as the flock approaches you, the wing-beats sound is like a high wind.

They have very few natural enemies. One of them, however, is the crocodile. Crocodiles sit at the waterhole, waiting for the birds to start drinking, and then – SNAP! – two or three birds are gone. That explains why the birds are extremely cautious when sitting down for a drink!

I adore this photo because it looks almost like a unique modern art painting, created by nature. The light of the setting sun illuminates the birds as they approach the waterhole while most of them sit silently on that small island waiting for their turn to get a drink. The orange-brownish colors highlight the fact that the scene is purely natural. The darkness on the little island visually expresses the fear of the animals needing a drink (but are afraid of the crocodiles.)

I think it’s an awesome image.

The high resolution image

Capture Date & Time29-NOV-2009, 18:54
LocationEtosha National Park, Namibia
CameraCanon EOS-1Ds Mark II
LensCanon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Exposure1/200 sec at f/5.6
Digital Image Source FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, AdobeRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions4992 x 2995 Pixels
Copyright© by Mark Zanzig/

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