The Mauritius fody, Foudia rubra is a medium-sized forest weaver endemic to Mauritius measuring 14 centimeters. The male has bright red plumage from head to chest and an orange patch on its lower back during the breeding season while the female is a uniform olive-brown colour with darker wings.
The Mauritius fody can be mainly found in the South-West of the island in Bassin Blanc, Macchabee Forest and Ile aux Aigrettes, it was reintroduced to Ile-aux-Aigrettes island in 2005. Foudia rubra inhabits all types of native forests including degraded forests and can also be found in non-native plantations where it finds some protection from nest predators. The Mauritius fody forages from the canopy to the ground on insects such as grasshoppers, beetle larvae, caterpillars, and spiders, which it finds in leaves, bark, epiphytes and dead leaves on the ground. It supplements its food with fruit and nectar.
The Mauritius fody forms monogamous relationships, with many retaining long-term territorial pair bonds. Breeding starts in July on Ile-aux-Aigrettes, and two months later on mainland Mauritius and usually lasts until February. The fody pairs weave domed nests using grass, moss, lichens and small twigs found within 100 meters of the nest site. These have a side entrance and a porch. The female adds lining, mainly feathers, before egg-laying and up to 8 days into incubation. Nests are usually hidden in the foliage and must have secure attachments to be able to withstand gale force winds. The fody will lay 2-3 pale blue eggs, which will be incubated by the female. The latter will also feed the young initially, later chicks are fed by both sexes. Breeding success tends to be low due to predation. A prolonged period of rain over one month may terminate breeding; while breeding can carry on under dry conditions.
The Mauritius fody has suffered from historical deforestation but has also suffered rapid population decline in the late 20th century due to land clearing for plantations: between 1975 and 1993, its range and population size suffered a decline of 55%, with the range covering an area of just 15 km2 in 1993. There were between 247 to 260 pairs in 1975, and just 108-122 pairs in 2001. Breeding failure is attributed to heavy predation from invasive mammals such as the black rat and the crab eating macaque. It is believed that the Madagascar fody may also restrict its range, but the different ecological requirements may allow the two species to coexist.
This species is currently classified as ‘Endangered’ because it has an extremely small population. The population has been stable since the early 1990s and has increased following an island translocation. Predator control, rehabilitation of native vegetation and a successful captive breeding programme carried out by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Parks and Conservation Service has helped to slow the decline significantly.
The Mauritius fody can be mistaken as the introduced and very common Madagascar fody. The latter is distinguished by its completely red body during the breeding season. Their bills are also different due to different feeding requirements.
Weaver Watch. n.d. Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra. Accessed May 2018. http://weavers.adu.org.za/sp.php?spp=1048.
BirdLife International. 2016. Foudia rubra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22719149A94614044. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22719149A94614044.en.
Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. 2018. Mauritius Fody. Accessed May 2018. http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/application/index.php?tpid=30&tcid=74.