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Weaver Wednesday [157] - Discovery [40]: Fan-tailed Widowbird

2015-06-17 (647)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday (species text)

Fan-tailed Widowbird Euplectes axillaris

Fan-tailed Widowbird
Fan-tailed Widowbird head
figure from Smith 1838
Fan-tailed Widowbird
Fan-tailed Widowbird, 2 males
figures from Reichenbach 1863
Fan-tailed Widowbird map
Fan-tailed Widowbird
distribution, type locality circled


The Fan-tailed Widowbird was collected and formally described by Andrew Smith, a Scottish surgeon, explorer, ethnologist and zoologist. 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 described this species from a specimen 'obtained upon the south-east coast . . . in Caffreland' (Smith 1838). Smith actually described this species earlier, but did not provide a specific name (Vidua sp., Smith 1831), but he did give the locality as near the Kei River (Smith 1831), Eastern Cape, South Africa. The specimen could have been collected anytime bewteen 1820 to 1831. Smith crossed the Great Kei River on his trip to KwaZulu-Natal in 1832, but clearly he must have collected Fan-tailed Widowbird on an earlier excursion to the Kei.

The first illustration of a Fan-tailed Widowbird was published by Andrew Smith in 1838 in Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, being painted by George Henry Ford. The next illustration was published in Reichenbach (1863), who painted 2 males in different poses.

Scientific citation

Vidua axillaris Smith 1838; Illustr. Zool. South Africa, Aves, pl. 17 (and text); 'between seven and eight hundred miles to the eastward of Cape Town ... in Caffreland' = eastern Cape.

Meaning of names

axillaris - Latin: axillaris, of the armpit, shoulders or wing (axilla, the armpit, shoulder or wing; ala, the wing).

First English name

Epauletted Widow-bird (Gurney 1860).

Alternate names

Abyssinian Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Benguella Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Bocage's (Fan-tailed) Whydah, Bocage's Widow Bird, Epauletted Widow-bird, Fan tailed Widow Bird, Fan-tailed Whydah, Malandje Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Natal Fan-tailed Weaver, Niger Fan-tailed Whydah, Nile Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Red-shouldered Whydah, Red-shouldered Widow Bird, The short-tailed red-shouldered Widow, Zanzibar Fan-tailed Widow-Bird.


Andrew Smith.

Date collected

Between 1820-31.

Locality collected

Great Kei River, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Type specimens

Not traced.