The setting is a picturesque kopje (small hill) in the South African bushveld. Suddenly, four birds, identical in appearance, alight on the branch of a nearby tree, uttering beautiful, ringing calls. On the same branch is a neat but unfinished nest made of shreds of bark.
One of the birds hops into the nest, snuggles down, and, making quaint little noises, adds a bit of material. With its body and its beak, it carefully shapes the nest, adding cobweb to bind the nest firmly together. The first bird then hops off, leaving the second, third, and fourth to repeat the fascinating procedure. As they fly off, their striking black and white plumage and melodic calls add beauty to the scene.
Ten minutes later, they are back with more nest-building material in their beaks. Imagine, four of them building the same nest! What kind of birds are they? From among southern Africa’s nearly 900 species, a bird manual reveals that these are white helmet shrikes. Of them, one encyclopedia writes: “They are highly sociable and cooperate in building nests and in feeding young.”