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Weaver Wednesday [154] - Discovery [37]: Scaly-feathered Finch

2015-05-27 (641)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday (species text)

Scaly-feathered Finch Sporopipes squamifrons

Scaly-feathered Finch
Scaly-feathered Finch at nest
figure from Smith 1844a
Scaly-feathered Finch collector
Andrew Smith,
figure from wikipedia
Scaly-feathered Finch map
Scaly-feathered Finch
distribution, type locality circled


The Scaly-feathered Finch was collected and formally described by Andrew Smith, a Scottish surgeon, explorer, ethnologist and zoologist. Smith moved to Grahamstown in 1820 as a doctor, and in 1825 he was appointed as the first Superintendent of the South African Museum of natural history in Cape Town.

Smith organised an expedition to the interior and he travelled to near the Botswana border in 1834-35, collecting many new birds, reptiles, mammals and other taxa along the way.

Smith noted that the Scaly-feathered Finch was common north of Latakoo, and that he only once saw it south of that locality, namely, near the source of the Great Fish River. Vincent 1935 argues that the correct type-locality depends on which of the two localities Smith first visited. Smith's expedition account shows that he travelled from the coast to Graaf Reinet and then to Latakoo (near Kuruman). Smith first saw the species near the source of the Great Fish River (near Graaf Reinet), but it is unclear if he collected a specimen here.

Clancey (1957) and Oschadleus (2007) argued that the Scaly-feathered Finch does not occur near Graaf Reinet and thus Latakoo (ie Kuruman) should be taken as the type locality.

Currently Kuruman is favoured as the type locality. Andrew Smith wrote detailed notes in his diary on 19 March 1835 about the Scaly-feathered Finch at the Moshawing River, near Latakoo, where he also found a nest with 2 chicks.

The first illustration of a Scaly-feathered Finch was published by Andrew Smith in 1844 in his well known work, Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, and the Scaly-feathered Finch with its nest was painted by George Henry Ford.

Scientific citation

Estrelda squamifrons Smith 1836; Rep. Exped. Centr. Africa, p.49; South Africa; restricted to Kuruman, northern Cape Province by Clancey (1957, Durban Mus. Novit., 5, p.50).

Meaning of names

squamifrons Latin: squameus, scaly; frons, the forehead or brow.

First English name

The Scale-headed Weaver-Finch (Reichenbach 1863).

Alternate names

Damara Scaly-feathered Weaver, Scaly Weaver, Scaly-crowned Weaver, Scaly-feathered Weaver Bird, Scaly-fronted Weaver, Scuttelated Finch, The Scale-headed Weaver-Finch.


Andrew Smith.

Date collected

19 March 1835.

Locality collected

Moshawing River, Kuruman.

Type specimens

There are at least 4 type specimens in different museums: BM 1872.10.4.92, ANSP 13911, Merseyside D1774, and Merseyside D1774a.