Weaver species

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Heuglin's Masked Weaver Ploceus heuglini

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 080

Categories: acacias, fruit, baobab, pest, Nest use,
News items about species


Heuglin's Masked Weaver
Heuglin's Masked Weaver male,
figure from Heuglin (1869)
Heuglin's Masked Weaver
Heuglin's Masked Weaver egg,
figure from Heuglin (1873)
Heuglin's Masked Weaver map
Heuglin's Masked Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


Heuglin's Masked Weaver was formally described by Anton Reichenow, a German ornithologist and herpetologist.

Heuglin's Masked Weaver was collected by Martin Theodor von Heuglin, a German explorer and ornithologist in north-eastern Africa. He collected a large number of birds, including new species, in East Africa. In 1861 Heuglin led an expedition, starting from Massawa in Eritrea, towards Khartoum via a wide detour through Ethiopia. In 1863 Heuglin continued from Khartoum to explore a great part of the Bahr-el-Ghazal river in South Sudan. The Bahr el Ghazal, meaning "sea of gazelles", is a tributary of the White Nile.

Heuglin described this species in 1864, soon after returning to Europe from NE Africa. However, he named it as Textor atrogularis ("black-throated"), a name which had already been used for the Black-necked Weaver by Voigt (1831), a name no longer valid for the latter species, but nevertheless one that cannot be used for Heuglin's Masked Weaver. This error was realised by Reichenow, who re-named Heuglin's Masked Weaver in honour of Heuglin.

The first illustration of the Heuglin's Masked Weaver was of the type, published by Heuglin (1869), repeated in 1871. The second illustration for the species was of the egg, in Heuglin (1873).

Scientific citation

Ploceus heuglini Reichenow 1886, Zool. Jahrb. I, p.147, Bahr-el-Ghazal, Sudan.

Meaning of names

heuglini, After Theodor von Heuglin (1824-1876) German explorer, ornithologist, and author.

First English name

Heuglin's Masked-Weaver (Shelley 1905).

Alternate names

Plain-backed Masked Weaver, Senegal Masked Weaver.


Theodor von Heuglin.

Date collected

Aug 1863.

Locality collected

Gazellenfluss=Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan.

Type specimens

There are at least one type (in the Leiden Museum), but there may be more syntypes.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday 2, a weekly series about the discovery of each weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [197] - Discovery [80]: Heuglin's Masked Weaver on 2016-03-23

1. Basic biology

Heuglin's Masked Weaver
Heuglin's Masked Weaver, female & male
figure from Wikipedia
Identification. Heuglin's Masked Weaver breeding male has a pale eye, and a black mask that extends to a narrow point on its breast. The crown is golden yellow with no black on the forehead, and the back is plain green. It does not overlap with the similar but larger Speke's Weaver. The Lesser Masked Weaver also has a pale eye but the head is black from the forehead to the mid-crown. The Vitelline Masked Weaver has a red eye in both sexes, a chestnut wash on the crown (male), and less yellow underparts (female and non-breeding male). The female Heuglin's Masked Weaver is very similar to the female Lesser Masked but has pink, not grey, legs.

Distribution. Heuglin's Masked Weaver is found in the woodland savanna belt from southern Senegal and Gambia, across West Africa to extreme western Kenya (see map below based on Birds of Africa). No subspecies are recognised. Heuglin's Masked Weaver map

Habitat. Heuglin's Masked Weaver inhabits savanna woodland, coastal thickets, secondary scrubland and is found around farms and villages. It generally prefers dry, tall woodland areas. Heuglin's Masked Weaver moves away from its breeding areas after nesting and movements may be related to regional rainfall patterns.

Food. Heuglin's Masked Weaver feeds mainly on arthropods, including spiders, caterpillars, beetles, dragonflies, grasshoppers. It also feeds on fruits and grass seeds. In Ivory Coast, its diet was estimated as 70% arthropods, 10% fruit and 20% seeds by weight. Heuglin's Masked Weaver examines leaves and flowers, apparently searching for insects.

Heuglin's Masked Weaver
Heuglin's Masked Weaver colony,
figure from PHOWN

Breeding. Heuglin's Masked Weaver is polygynous. It is a colonial or solitary nester, typically having up to 15 nests in a colony. The same sites are used annually, and sites are usually away from water. Heuglin's Masked Weaver may form mixed colonies with other weaver species. The nest is kidney-shaped, with a tunnel up to 20 cm long extending from the entrance. The nest is placed in a tree, or often attached to telephone lines with each nest woven to the wire throughout its width for additional stability. The nest is coarsely woven by the male using strips of grass or grass stems, and may be completed in a day. The male displays by quivering his wings and tail, or beating his wings, while hanging below a nest. If a female accepts a nest, she lines it with downy flowerheads of grasses. The male does not strip leaves from the vegetation around the nest.

Heuglin's Masked Weavers often choose protected nest sites. One colony overhung the entrance of a busy rest house in Nigeria. Nests may be attached to the base of the nests of an Augur Buzzard Buteo auguralis, Crowned Hawk-eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, Marabou Leptoptilus crumeniferus or Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii.

Heuglin's Masked Weaver
Heuglin's Masked Weaver nest,
figure from Collias (1964)
Alternatively, nests are often associated with stinging or biting insects like mud wasps Megachile, paper wasps Polistes fastidiosus and Ropalidia cincta, bees Apis, and the red weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina. The clutch is 2-4 eggs, and the eggs are plain turquoise-blue, or pale blue with very fine brown spots. The female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks. Some nests are parasitized by the Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius in Mali.

Old nests of the Heuglin's Masked Weaver may be taken over by the Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata, African Silverbill Euodice cantans, or Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu Uraeginthus bengalus.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [69]: Heuglin's Masked Weaver on 2013-10-09

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Breeding season
Aug in Senegal, Jul and Sept-Oct in Mali, Mar-Jul in Ghana, Aug-Sept in Togo, May-Sept in Benin, May-Aug and Jul-Oct at different sites in Nigeria, Aug-Sept in Sudan, Jan-Mar in NE DRCongo, and Jun and Feb in Uganda
Nest site
placed in tree, or often attached to telephone line (each nest woven to the wire throughout its width); one group of nests overhung entrance of busy rest house in Nigeria
Nest building
coarsely woven by male
Colony size
Colonial or solitary nester, typically in groups of up to 15 nests
Clutch size
2-4 eggs (average 2.2 in Nigeria)
Egg colour
plain tuquoise-blue, or pale blue with very fine brown spots
Egg size
average size of 30 eggs 20.9 x 14.6 mm (Nigeria)
incubation by female, period 12-13 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female alone, nestling period 14-18 days

Breeding information based on Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 15.

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 29498

Vm 3725

Thumb-nails of most recent PHOWN records - click on one to see its full record
See all PHOWN records for this species here.

PHOWN (Photos of Weaver Nests) provides valuable info on breeding distribution and colony sizes of weavers.
You can contribute by registering and submitting photos at Virtual Museum webpage.

4. Breeding distribution

Google map showing distribution (For species with small ranges you need to zoom in at the correct area to see the range):
yellow blob - range of weaver species; read more about this here.
- PHOWN records with photos
- PHOWN records with no photos (Nest Record Cards, other records)
- Birdpix records
- comments on out of range records, or interesting records
- type locality
CLICK on the marker on the map to see individual record details.

5. Range changes

Not South African species

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday 3, a weekly series about range changes in South African weaver species.
This species text first appeared as n/a