Weaver news

Weaver Wednesday [128] - Discovery [11]: Long-tailed Widowbird

2014-11-26 (598)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday (species text)

Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne

Long-tailed Widowbird
Long-tailed Widowbird male,
figure from Daubenton 1783
Philomena and Procne
Philomena and Procne;
Long-tailed Widowbird named
after Procne,
figure from wikipedia
Long-tailed Widowbird map
Long-tailed Widowbird distribution,
type locality circled


The Long-tailed Widowbird was formally named by Pieter Boddaert, a Dutch naturalist, in 1783. Boddaert published fifty copies of an identification table of Edmé-Louis Daubenton's Planches enluminees, assigning Linnean binomial names (scientific names) to the coloured plates. Many of these names were the first scientific names to be proposed, and so they remain in use today.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Coount of Buffon was the first to describe the Long-tailed Widowbird, but he did not accept the binomial system of Linnaeus and so he is not credited as the formal author of this species. Buffon described many birds and other animals in a series of volumes (see here). The 9 bird volumes were published between 1770-1783 and Buffon commissoned Edme-Louis Daubenton, to supervise a book of illustrations - the coloured engravings by Francois-Nicolas Martinet were published in 1783 as Planches enluminees.

In Buffon's description of the Long-tailed Widowbird in 1778, he provided the French name La Veuve a epaulettes (The Widow with shoulder patches). Buffon noted that the bird originated from Cap de Bonne Esperance, the Cape of Good Hope. Buffon also gave the plate number of Martinet's colour engraving, although this was only published 5 years later.

Buffon listed the Long-tailed Widowbird as coming from the Cape of Good Hope, which could mean the Cape in its broadest sense, ie either the Western or Eastern Cape. Clancey eventually restricted the locality to the Eastern Cape, as the Long-tailed Widowbird does not occur in the Western Cape. Buffon had many correspondents who sent him specimens from different places in the world, but no details are published for the Long-tailed Widowbird as to who collected this species.

Scientific citation

Emberiza progne Boddaert 1783 Tabl. Planch. Enlum., p39 Cape of Good Hope, S Africa (ex Daubenton, Planch. Enlum., pl 653). Restricetd to E Cape by Clancey 1966.

Meaning of names

progne (Latin) = a swallow, from Greek mythology = 'Prokne', a daughter of Pandion, who was transformed into a swallow. Read the myth in wikipedia. Presumably Boddaert heard about the display of the Long-tailed Widowbird and likened it to the fluttering flight of a swallow.

Alternate names

Giant Whydah, Great-tailed Widow Bird, Long-tailed finch, Progne Widow-bird, Sakabula (latter is a Zulu name



Date collected

Before 1778, when Buffon wrote about this species.

Locality collected

Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Type specimens

No type specimens known to survive, but the painting of Daubenton serves as a type.