Weaver species

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White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali

IUCN: Least concern

Categories: Plocepasser, long tube, cooperative, acacias, gum, Gymnogene, nectar,


coming in early 2015

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday 2, a weekly series about the discovery of each weaver species.
This species text first appeared as on

1. Basic biology

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali is the most widespread of the sparrow-weavers, occurring in southern and eastern Africa. It is a large, noisy brown and white weaver that is common. The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver has a conspicuous broad white stripe from above the eye backwards, and 2 prominent white wing-bars and wing edgings. In flight, a large white patch on the rump and uppertail-coverts is visible.

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver has four subspecies:
P. m. mahali in southern Africa (red on the map).
P. m. ansorgei in northern Namibia to Angola (green on the map). This race has broad white tips on the tail feathers.
P. m. pectoralis from Zimbabwe and Zambia to central Tanzania (blue on the map). This race has a reddish-brown back, and the breast feathers have dark triangular centres (see photo above right and here);
P. m. melanorhynchus from northern Tanzania to Sudan (pink on the map). This race has earth-brown upperparts, and black marks on the breast sides.

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver appears to have increased its range and abundance in many areas (read more here). For example, in the Eastern Cape it was first seen on Rookwood farm in the 1980s, and since 2000 has several colonies (see sparrow-weaver colonies on Rookwood here). This species has probably increased number of nests at Barberspan (see here). The species seems to be increasing in Kenya, e.g. it was described as a new-comer to Ngulia in the past 2 years (VM 1977) and is increasing in Nairobi.

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver inhabits mopane and acacia savanna, with <600 mm annual rainfall. It is also found in riverine fringes and gardens.

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver feeds on insects and seeds. Insects include termites, weevils, tenebrionid beetles, ants, caterpillars and small moths. Seeds of grasses and cereals are important in winter. It takes bread and other scraps at camp sites.

The White-browed Sparrow-Weaver is a colonial, cooperative breeder, living in groups of 2-11 birds. There is a single breeding female in each group, that is replaced by another group member in time. There is a dominant, breeding male that is eventually replaced from outside the group. Helpers related to the breeding pair help defend the territory and feed the young; unrelated helpers only help in group defence of the territory. The average colony size is 16 nests, but may be up to 20 nests in a single tree.

The nest is an elongated retort ball, with a domed roof. It is built only from dry grasses 15-60cm long. One occupied nest contained 983 pieces of grass. About 60% of roosting nests are converted to breeding nests by closing one of the 2 entrances, and then lining with feathers. The nest is placed in trees, 2-8 m above the ground. Mopane and Acacia trees are often favoured. Most nests are placed on the side of the tree away from the prevailing wind. Nest construction takes 10-18 days; and is by both members of the pair and helpers may contribute. Nest-building activity is throughout the year. Its nest sometimes has a longer entrance, as shown right. Birds like the Ashy Tit Parus griseus, Black-checked Waxbill Estrilda erythronotos and Red-headed Finch Amadina erythrocephala may use their nests for roosting.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [2]: White-browed Sparrow-Weaver on 2012-06-27

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Monogamous, co-operative breeding system with helpers
Breeding season
throughout year in Kenya and South Africa depending on local conditions in areas of irregular rainfall; mostly Mar-May in E Africa, but Jul-Aug on Laikipia Plateau (Kenya); Nov-Dec in Angola, peak Dec-Mar in Zambia, Oct-Feb in Malawi, May-Jun in Botswana
Nest site
placed 2-8 m above ground in tree such as mopane, Sclerocarya caffra, or acacia (at least six species recorded)
Nest building
Nests built throughout year, but especially after rain; construction taking 10-18 days
Colony size
Clutch size
Egg colour
salmon-pink or creamy white, either evenly speckled with red, brown and grey, or markings forming band at thick end
Egg size
average 24.9 x 16.4 mm (South Africa)
incubation by female alone, period 14-16 days
Chicks and nestling period
young fed by female alone for first 2-3 days, then also by male and helpers, chicks in nests with helpers grow faster; nestling period 17-18 days in Zambia, 21-23 days in South Africa, 25 days in captivity

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 16286

Vm 16267

Vm 16265

Vm 16264

Vm 16263

Vm 16262

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