Weaver species

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Lesser Masked Weaver Ploceus intermedius

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 046

Categories: white eggs, , acacias, fruit, waterbirds, gum, baobab, Gymnogene, nectar, Nest use, palm, double nests, Ploceus 5: 'Sitagra',
News items about species


Lesser Masked Weaver
Lesser Masked Weaver male,
figure from Heuglin 1871
Lesser Masked Weaver
Lesser Masked Weaver nest
figure from Hoesch 1936
Lesser Masked Weaver map
Lesser Masked Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


The Lesser Masked Weaver was formally named by Wilhelm Peter Eduard Simon Rüppell, a German naturalist and explorer, especially in north-east Africa. Rüppell was the first naturalist to travel through Ethiopia and many birds are named after him.

The Lesser Masked Weaver was collected by Major Sir William Cornwallis Harris, an English military engineer, artist and hunter.

Harris led a British diplomatic mission (1841 to 1843) from Bombay to Sahle Selassie, Negus of Shewa, at the time an autonomous district of Ethiopia, with whom they negotiated a commercial treaty. Harris collected birds and other scientific data during the trip. Harris wrote about these travels in 3 volumes (The highlands of Aethiopia) in which he makes occasional reference to birds, but does not appear to have written about the Lesser Masked Weaver which he collected. The type specimen was taken to the East India Company Museum and later [between 1858 and 1971] transferred to the British Museum.

Rüppell illustrated many of the birds he described, but did not illustrate the Lesser Masked Weaver. The first illustration of a Lesser Masked Weaver is a colour painting of its head in Heuglin 1871. Interestingly, the species was not illustrated again for many decades and the second illustration pertaining to this species is a photo of a nest in Hoesch 1936.

Scientific citation

Ploceus intermedius Ruppell 1845 Syst. Uebers, pp 71, 76. Shoa, central Abyssinia.

Meaning of names

intermedius - Latin: intermedius, intermediate (i.e. sharing characteristics with or acting as a link between two other species).

First English name

Cabanis' Weaver Bird (Layard 1884). One of the subspecies of the Lesser Masked Weaver was named after Cabanis, hence this early English name - the subspecies is no longer recognised.

Alternate names

Abyssinian Masked Weaver, Black-cheeked Weaver, Cababis's Masked Weaver, Cabanis' Weaver Bird, Cabanis's Masked Weaver, Ethiopian Masked Weaver, Masked Weaver.


Major WC Harris.

Date collected


Locality collected

Shoa = Shewa, central Ethiopia.

Type specimens

One specimen is known to be in the British Museum (BM 1861.5.8.41).

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 [163] - Discovery [46]: Lesser Masked Weaver on 2015-07-29

1. Basic biology

Lesser Masked Weaver
Lesser Masked Weaver, adult male
birdpix 4224
Lesser Masked Weaver, female

Identification. The Lesser Masked Weaver adult male in breeding plumage (far right) is yellow with a black mask, pale eye and thin bill. Females (right) and non-breeding males are dull coloured, with a pale eye and blue-grey legs. Read about eye colours in weavers, including the Lesser Masked Weaver, here (821 kB). Juveniles have a dark eye.

Distribution. The Lesser Masked Weaver is a widespread weaver in eastern Africa and the northern parts of southern Africa (see map below, based on Birds of Africa).

Many subspecies have been recorded but currently there are two accepted subspecies:
(1) P. i. intermedius, found East Africa (green on map); the male has an orangy tinge on the yellow around the mask;
(2) P. i. cabanisii, found in southern Africa (red on map); the male is bright yellow with a black mask.

There is a slight range expansion of this species in KwaZulu-Natal (see news item).
There is a PHOWN record of this species from Ibo Island, northern Mozambique, far out of its published range (see phown 1859).

Habitat. The Lesser Masked Weaver occurs in a variety of habitats including acacia savanna, bushveld, open woodland and riverine trees, preferring areas close to water and also human habitation.

Food. The Lesser Masked Weaver feeds on insects, especially caterpillars, termites, and grasshoppers. It also feeds on nectar (mainly of aloes), mulberries, and small seeds. Nestlings are fed on insects.

phown 3132
Lesser Masked Weaver, male at nest

Breeding. The Lesser Masked Weaver is polygynous and a male can have 2-3 females simultaneously, and probably several more during a breeding season. Nests are usually very close together, and sometimes are suspended below other nests. Colonies may be monospecific or mixed with a variety of other weaver species. Nests have a short, narrow entrance tunnel. Nests look untidy due to short lengths of material sticking out from the nest.

Nests are built by the male, and lined by the female, although sometimes no lining is added to breeding nests. Nests are placed in trees, reeds, roof edges of buildings, or from telephone wires.

Eggs (usually 2-4) are white or pale bluish white. Incubation is by the female but both parents help feed the young, although the female does more feeding. This is one of the smallest host species to the Diederik Cuckoo.

Nest predators include snakes, especially boomslang Dispholidus typus, African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides typus, and Vervet Monkeys Cercopithecus aethiops.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [20]: Lesser Masked Weaver on 2012-10-31

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, with two or three females per male
Breeding season
Jan-May in DRCongo, Oct-Nov and Mar-May in Rwanda, Mar, May-Jul and Sept in Ethiopia, Jun in Somalia, Mar-Jun in Uganda; in all months except Aug-Nov (peak in Apr) in Kenya; Feb-Apr in Tanzania, Dec and Mar in Angola Sept-Feb in Zambia, Nov-Mar in Malawi, Nov-Feb in Mozambique, Sept-Feb in Zimbabwe, and Oct-Feb in Botswana and South Africa
Nest site
placed in reeds, or in trees over water or open ground, including exotic species such as eucalypt (Eucalyptus), or even suspended from roof edge or telephone line, 1-3 m above ground
Nest building
built by male, lined by female
Colony size
Colonial, up to 60 nests at a site
Clutch size
2-3 eggs (average 2.3 in E, C & S Africa)
Egg colour
plain white or pale bluish-white
Egg size
average size of 74 eggs 21.4 x 14.7 mm (South Africa)
incubation by female, period 13 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by both sexes, male feeding only half as frequently as female, nestling period 15 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 31115

Vm 31067

Vm 31039

Vm 30683

Vm 30379

Vm 30287

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