Weaver species

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Chestnut Weaver Ploceus rubiginosus

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 044

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


Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver male,
figure from Ruppell 1840
Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver,
figure from Reichenbach 1863
Chestnut Weaver map
Chestnut Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


The Chestnut Weaver was formally described by Wilhelm Peter Eduard Simon Rüppell, a German naturalist and explorer, especially in north-east Africa. Rüppell was the first naturalist to travel through Ethiopia and many birds are named after him.

On Rüppell's third journey to Africa, in 1831-34, he travelled to the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, and along the coast of the Red Sea to Massawa (Steinheimer 2005). Rüppell stayed in this area a few months at the end of 1831 and into early 1832, and then travelled inland with a trade caravan to reach the Abyssinian Highlands in 1833. He found the Chestnut Weaver at only one locality on his travels. The weavers were in small family parties at high altitude and he collected a male, female and young bird.

The first illustration of a Chestnut Weaver is a colour painting in Ruppell 1840. The next illustration is by Reichenbach (1863), also of an adult male.

Scientific citation

Ploceus rubiginosus Ruppell 1840 Neue Wirbelt., Vogel, p.93, 100; pl. 33, fig. 1; Temben province, northern Abyssinia.

Meaning of names

rubiginosus - Latin: rusty, ferruginous.

First English name

The rufous Weawer (Reichenbach 1863).

Alternate names

Angola Chestnut Weaver, Chocolate Weaver, The rufous Weawer.


Eduard Rüppell.

Date collected


Locality collected

Temben province, northern Ethiopia.

Type specimens

One specimen is known to be in the British Museum (Vell. Cat. XX:239 a) (Sharpe 1890) - this specimen was aquired from the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt in 1834. Senckenberg Museum has two additional syntypes, a male and a female (SMF 12645, 69062).

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 [161] - Discovery [44]: Chestnut Weaver on 2015-07-15

1. Basic biology

Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver male
Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver female

Identification. The Chestnut Weaver is named after its colour. The adult male (photo above left) in breeding plumage is a distinctive chestnut with a black head. There are 2 other chestnut coloured birds in Africa. The Cinnamon Weaver (see photo here) is similar but has yellow wing edges (rather than pale) and yellow vent (rather than brown as in the Chestnut Weaver). The Chestnut Sparrow Passer eminibey has chestnut wing edges and is smaller than the Chestnut Weaver. Female (photo above right) and non-breeding male Chestnut Weavers are much browner than other weavers, with buff or chestnut breast-band and flanks, and in southern Africa the grey bill is distinctive. Juveniles are similar but with streaked breasts (see photo here).

Distribution. Two subspecies of the Chestnut Weaver are currently recognised (see map left, based on Birds of Africa):
P. r. rubiginosus in eastern Africa, from Eritrea to Tanzania (see red on map left).
P. r. trothae Angola, Namibia, Botswana (see blue on map left). This subspecies has the chestnut plumage more orange in tone, and the rump is light brown rather than chestnut brown.

There are vagrant records from southern Namibia and South Africa - see here) for a map and links to pdfs describing these records.

Habitat. Chestnut Weavers inhabit dry thornveld.

Food. The Chestnut Weaver feeds on grass seeds and also on insects. In East Africa it feeds mainly on wild grass seeds but switches to cereal crops (especially sorghum) in Feb-Apr, and thus being a pest. Non-breeding birds flock and roost with other granivores and may form large mixed roosts.

Breeding. This species is monogamous and polygynous and highly colonial, with 500 or more nests covering trees in a small area (photo below left, from phown 3739). For example, following exceptional rains in Namibia, over 100 trees had 40-100 nests in each.

Colonies are established at different sites every year, although sometimes the same sites are used again in Namibia. Breeding is fairly well-synchronized within a colony. Males are present during the nest-building phase, displaying with beating wings from their nests. Males leave the colony during the breeding cycle, often while the females are incubating. The males form nomadic flocks and start moult, leaving colonies occupied only by females and young birds.

Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver colony
Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver nest

The nest is built by the male of grass stems (photo right, from phown 2476). The nest is retort-shaped with a short spout (sometimes absent). Nests are usually suspended from the tip of branches, sometimes 3-4 nests hang in a string below one another or are clustered together. Nests look untidy, having protruding grass stems. The nest ceiling and floor are lined with grass heads. Females do all the incubation and feeding of young, since the males leave the colony early.

Red-headed Finches and other species often nest in old nests, and Red-headed Finches also take over active nests.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [26]: Chestnut Weaver on 2012-12-12

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
monogamous and polygynous
Breeding season
Oct in Ethiopia, May in Somalia, May-Jul in Uganda, Apr-Jul (also Nov in N arid region) in Kenya, Mar-Apr in Tanzania, Apr in Angola and Dec-May (mainly Jan-Mar) in Namibia
Nest site
generally suspended from tip of branch by cord of grass stems, sometimes several nests suspended one below another, 3-5 m above ground in large tree in open grassland, usually baobab (Adansonia) in Kenya and acacia (Acacia), Albizia or Colophospermum in Namibia
Nest building
tightly woven inside by male, lined with grass seedheads by female
Colony size
highly colonial, e.g. more than 100 trees each held 40-100 nests at site in Namibia
Clutch size
average 3 eggs (Namibia)
Egg colour
pale turquoise-blue, sometimes speckled or scrolled with dark green
Egg size
average size of 20 eggs 22.8 x 15.7 mm (Namibia)
incubation by female, period 11-14 days, hatching staggered, suggesting that incubation starts when first egg laid
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female only, as males have already left colony, nestling period 13-16 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 30866

Vm 30855

Vm 30237

Vm 30016

Vm 29926

Vm 29820

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

Chestnut Weaver, Records in the Northern Cape, South Africa.
V=Virtual Museum record (Birdpix), P=PHOWN record, L=Literature record

Range changes in SA

In South Africa the Chestnut Weaver has two grid cells with records from SABAP2 (2007-), while there were no records during SABAP1 (1987-1991), nor previous to the atlas projects.

There were also additional records, as listed in the Table below.

Chestnut Weaver
Chestnut Weaver,
figure from Birdpix

Range change summary
More 4 lists 30 lists
increases n % n %
Decrease 0 0 0 0
Tiny change 0 0 0 0
Increase 2 100 1 100
Total 2 100 1 100

Table: records of Chestnut Weavers in the Northern Cape, South Africa

RecordDateLocalityFirst observerNotesWeb links
19-12 Jan 2011Nossob, KTP, N CapeMadel Whittington1 male BP first news item and papers
[not listed in ABB 2011 16(2):18-19]
214-24 Jan 2011Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, N CapeBen Smit1 male BPweaver news
312 April 2011Samevloeiing waterhole, KTP, N CapeGraeme Ellis1 male BP paper
423 Feb 2012just south of Union's End picnic site, KTPWenda Redfern2 males BP Birdpix, and rarebirdnews
522 April 2013Augrabies Falls NPAlan Sizer2 males BP, 1 female Birdpix
617 Mar 2014Spitskop GR, Upington, N CapeVincent Parker1 male BP weaver news
730 Mar 2014Spitskop GR, Upington, N CapeBrian Vanderwalt1 male BP male still present
& building
7bend of Mar 2014Spitskop GR, Upington, N CapePeter Giesler1 male BP facebook, photo

KTP = Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
BP = breeding plumage

Range changes elsewhere

Namibia: sighting far south of its range in Namibia (Swanepoel W 2005 Birds on the move: range extensions and vagrants in western, central and southern Namibia 1994-2005. Lanioturdus 38(2):19-24).

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 Weaver Wednesday 3 [262] - Range changes [25]: Chestnut Weaver on 2017-06-21