Weaver species

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Thick-billed Weaver Amblyospiza albifrons

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 036

Categories: wetland, fruit, frogs, nectar, pest, Nest use, Amblyospiza,
News items about species


Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver
figure from Swainson 1838
Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver
figure from Smith 1840
Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver
figure from Smith 1840
Thick-billed Weaver map
Thick-billed Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


The Thick-billed Weaver was formally described by Nicholas Aylward Vigors, an Irish zoologist and politician. Vigors was a co-founder of the Zoological Society of London in 1826, and its first secretary until 1833.

The Thick-billed Weaver specimen was presented to the Zoological Society of London by Henry Ellis, an English librarian at the British Museum. It is not known from whom Ellis obtained these specimens.

Vigors described nine new species from the Ellis collection and the specimens were all believed to have come from Algoa Bay and surroundings in the Eastern Cape. Two species, however, the Purple-crested Turaco Tauraco porphyreolophus and the Spotted Thrush Zoothera guttata, have their southern limits further north in the Transkei (and may have come from Durban), but the rest of the specimens probably did originate from the Algoa Bay area.

The first illustration of a Thick-billed Weaver is in Swainson (1838), showing a line drawing of the very heavy bill of a male. A few years after this species was first described, Andrew Smith found this species in 2 places: in the Eastern Cape forests (probably not too far from Grahamstown, as Smith was based there in his early years in South Africa) and around Durban (Port Natal) in 1832. Smith commisioned the first colour illustrations of the The Thick-billed Weaver - these were published as 2 plates in Smith (1840), and painted by George Henry Ford.

Scientific citation

Pyrrhula albifrons Vigors 1831; Proc. Zool. Soc. London, p.92 1831 Algoa Bay, eastern Cape.

Meaning of names

albifrons Latin: albus, white; frons, the forehead, brow.

First English name

White-fronted Grosbeak (Gurney 1860).

Alternate names

Abyssinian Grosbeak Weaver, Angola Grosbeak Weaver, Ashanti White-fronted Grosbeak, Black Swamp Weaver, Cameroon Grosbeak Weaver, Cavort chewer, East Coast Grosbeak Weaver, Grosbeak Weaver, Hawfinch Weaver, Kenya Grosbeak Weaver, The white-headed Coryphegnathus, White Nile Grosbeak Weaver, White-fronted Grosbeak, White-fronted Weaver.



Date collected

Before 1831.

Locality collected

Algoa Bay.

Type specimens

The type specimen is not in the British Museum (Warren 1971), and is thus probably lost.

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 [153] - Discovery [36]: Thick-billed Weaver on 2015-05-20

1. Basic biology

Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver, head of male
Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver, female

Identification. The Thick-billed Weaver Amblyospiza albifrons is in a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), namely Amblyospiza, this name meaning "blunt, finch", referring to its amazingly heavy bill. The male has a black bill, white forehead (photo left) and conspicuous white patches in its wings; the rest of its plumage varies racially, from chestnut to black. The sexes are dissimilar, and the female has a yellow bill, brown upperparts, and underparts white heavily striped with sepia. The juvenile resembles the female, but the bill is yellowish; immature males need 2 years to attain adult plumage.

Distribution. The Thick-billed Weaver is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and has five subspecies.
A. a. albifrons is found in southern Africa to central Mozambique (red on map).
A. a. capitalba occurs in West Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola and DR Congo (light green); the male has the white forehead patch extending onto the crown, the rest of the head is light rufous-brown contrasting with the dark chocolate-brown upperparts, and with grey-brown belly.
A. a. melanota is found from southern Sudan south to Burundi and NW Tanzania (purple); the male has a small white forehead patch, and dark brown head contrasting with the black upperparts.
A. a. montana occurs from the interior of Kenya south to Botswana (Okavango Basin) and Zimbabwe (yellow); the male is very dark, nearly black.
A. a. unicolor occurs along the coast from Somalia to Tanzania, including Zanzibar and Pemba I (brown); the male is smaller, has some brown wash on the head, but no obvious colour contrast.

This species is expanding its range, especially in the provinces around Gauteng in South Africa (see here).

Habitat. The Thick-billed Weaver inhabits wetlands when breeding and forest edges when not breeding, and shows some local movements. It is a fairly common species locally.

Food. The Thick-billed Weaver feeds on insects (including termites), berries and fruit, and hard-shelled seeds; also sunflower seeds. An adult in Kenya ate a small frog, and aquatic snails have been recorded in its diet.

Thick-billed Weaver
Female Thick-billed Weaver investigating
a new nest

Breeding. The nest of the Thick-billed Weaver is distinctive. It is compact, woven with thin strips of reeds, slung between upright stems of reeds. The nest is globe-shaped with a side entrance near the top. The fine material used lets a nest look neat, but actually the weave is very primitive.

Initially the entrance is large, and reduced to a narrow opening if used for breeding. Colonies may be small with one male, or larger with several males, in a reed patch. This species is polygynous, the male attempting to attract several females.

The mean clutch size 3 eggs, and the eggs are white to pink, spotted with red, purple and brown. Incubation is by the female, with long incubation spells of 33 minutes (and 12 minutes off the nest). The chicks are fed by the female (by regurgitation), and sometimes the male also feeds. Nest predators include the White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus, House Crow Corvus splendens, and Nile monitor Varanus niloticus.

Old nests may be taken over by climbing mice, and used for breeding by the Zebra Waxbill Amandava subflava or Brown Firefinch Lagonosticta nitidula.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [8]: Thick-billed Weaver on 2012-08-08

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, male with up to six females, three nesting simultmeously on teritory; also single nests and apparently monogamous pairs in areas of low density
Breeding season
May-Nov in Cameroon, Jul-Oct in Central African Republic, Nov in Sudan, and May-Jun and Aug-Sept in Ethiopia; in DRCongo, Jan-Mar in Katanga, Jun-Nov in Ituri and Jan in Itombwe; all months except Nov-Dec (peak Apr-Jun) in Uganda; in Kenya Apr-Oct on coast and all months except Sept-Oct (peak Mar-Jun) inland; Mar-Apr in Rwanda, Dec-Feb and Apr-May in Tanzania, and Dec-Mar in Mozambique, Angola, Zambia and Malawi; Jan-Feb and Apr in Botswana, and Nov-Mar in Zimbabwe; in South Africa, Nov-Mar inland and Sept-Mar in coastal regions
Nest site
attached, 1-3 m above ground or water, to bulrushes , papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) or reeds (Phragmites) and sedges, usually over water, also in tall elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
Nest building
built by male, female lining cup
Colony size
Often in small colonies; more than 100 nests in one South African colony
Clutch size
mean 3 eggs (Malawi, South Africa)
Egg colour
white to pink, spotted with red, purple and brown
Egg size
average size of 165 in S Africa 23.6 x 16.2 mm
by female, in mean spells of 33 minutes (mean 12.5 minutes off nest), period 14-16 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female (by regugitation), occasionally by male, nestling period 18-20 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 27040

Vm 26925

Vm 26908

Vm 26870

Vm 26863

Vm 26860

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

Thick-billed Weaver, Range-change map between SABAP1 (1987-1991) and SABAP2 (2007-current).
Red, orange and yellow = cells with very large, large, and small relative decreases
Blue, dark green and light green = cells with very large, large and small relative increases.
Cells = quarter-degree grid cells; Only cells with at least 4 checklists in both SABAP1&2 shown. All cells had this species recorded in SABAP1 or in SABAP2 or in both (more about interpretation at Biodiversity Observations 7.62: 1-13).

Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver,
figure from Birdpix

Range changes in SA

Range change summary
More 4 lists 30 lists
increases n % n %
Decrease 91 22 32 11
Tiny change 71 16 50 18
Increase 270 62 194 71
Total 432 100 276 100
In South Africa the Thick-billed Weaver has many more grid cells with increases in reporting rate than cells showing decreases, between SABAP1 (1987-1991) and SABAP2 (2007-).

The points below match the points on the map above.

Areas with very large increases include:
1. Gauteng and surrounding areas - first reported here in 1961, increased over many decades in urban Gauteng, and in recent years expanding further outwards.
2. Expanding westwards in interior KwaZulu-Natal.
3. Western parts of the Eastern Cape.

Areas with very large decreases:
4. Some decreases along the Mozambique border - this weaver occurs at a lower density here.

Range changes elsewhere

Zimbabwe: increase in Harare, expanding from east (Baker 2011b).

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 [252] - Range changes [15]: Thick-billed Weaver on 2017-04-12