Weaver species

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Scaly-feathered Finch Sporopipes squamifrons

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 037

Categories: cooperative, acacias, Nest use, Histurgops+Sporopipes,
News items about species


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.

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 [154] - Discovery [37]: Scaly-feathered Finch on 2015-05-27

1. Basic biology

Scaly-feathered Finch
Scaly-feathered Finch

Identification. There are two species in the genus Sporopipes, this name meaning "to look for seeds". They are very small, social weavers of semi-arid parts of Africa. Both species have moustachial stripes but they do not overlap in distribution. The sexes are alike. The young have the crown and forehead dull grey-brown with no scaling, and the malar stripes are absent.

Distribution. The Scaly-feathered Finch is found through southern Africa and the extreme southern parts of Angola and Zambia. There are disjunct populations in the Eastern and Western Cape. For changes in abundance in SOuth Africa, see here. The Scaly-feathered Finch has no recognised subspecies, although several have been proposed in the past.

Habitat. The Scaly-feathered Finch inhabits dry Acacia savanna, arid scrub and bush along dry watercourses, and shrubs near houses. This species is found in pairs or flocks of up to 20 birds, and it regularly flocks with waxbills. Scaly-feathered Finches sleep communally in a nest through the year, with up to 12 birds using one nest, to keep warm on icy winter nights. Resting in the nest during the day also enables the birds to avoid the hottest times in summer.

Food. The Scaly-feathered Finch forages on the ground, feeding mainly on small seeds, with insects being fed to their young. They drink when water is available but, remarkably, they can survive for months without drinking as they can produce metabolic water from their diet of dry seeds.

Scaly-feathered Finch
Scaly-feathered Finch nest

Breeding. The Scaly-feathered Finch is monogamous, and some courtship behaviour resembles that of waxbills. It is suspected to be a cooperative breeder, but this needs to be investigated.

The Scaly-feathered Finch nest is an untidy, rugby-ball shaped mass of grass stems and grass seed heads. There is usually one nest, but sometimes nests from previous seasons may be present. The nest is placed in trees or bushes at 1-4 m above the ground. It may use May the old cup nest of a shrike or flycatcher and build a roof over it.

The incubation period is fairly short at 10-12 days, as is found in many passerines in arid areas. Incubation is by the female, while both sexes feed the nestlings. The young continue to sleep in the nest for several weeks.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [7]: Scaly-feathered Finch on 2012-08-01

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Monogamous, at least within a breeding season
Breeding season
at any time of year when conditions favourable; peak months Feb-Mar in Zambia, Dec-Apr in Botswana, Jan-Mar in Zimbabwe and Jan-Jun in South Africa
Nest site
placed in tree and usually 1-4 m above ground up to 6 m in tall tree; sometimes roofs over old cup-nest of shrike (Laniidae) or flycatcher (Muscicapidae), or utilizes old nest of another weaver, e.g. Ploceus velatus
Nest building
ln captivity, female built nest while male brought material
Colony size
Clutch size
Egg colour
greenish, bluish or pale cream, densely freckled with grey to brownish
Egg size
average size 15.7 x 11.3 mm (106 eggs from South Africa)
incubation by female alone, period 10-12 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by both sexes, nestling period 14-18 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 30203

Vm 30196

Vm 30041

Vm 29972

Vm 29941

Vm 29585

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