Weaver species

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Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 054

Categories: long tube, acacias, fruit, gum, baobab, nectar, Nest use, palm, double nests, Anaplectes, blue eggs,
News items about species


Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
figure from Lafresnaye 1839
Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
figure from Reichenbach 1863
Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
figure from Elliot 1876
Red-headed Weaver map
Red-headed Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


The Red-headed Weaver was formally described by Carl Jakob Sundevall, a Swedish zoologist employed at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm. He described many new birds collected in southern Africa by Johan August Wahlberg and sent to the Swedish Museum.

The Red-headed Weaver was collected by Johan August Wahlberg, a Swedish naturalist and explorer. Wahlberg collected at least 5 specimens of the Red-headed Weaver in Oct-Nov 1843 while hunting for big game around Mohapoani - these mountains are now known as the Witfonteinrant Mountains, SW of Thabazimbi in Limpopo Province.

Wahlberg travelled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden, and several birds and animals were named after him. He was killed by an elephant he wounded while exploring the Okavango area in Botswana.

Wahlberg did not collect the first Red-headed Weaver specimens. Two specimens were collected in Senegal by an unknown collector by 1839 and sent to paris where they were described as a new species by Frederic de Lafresnaye in 1839. The name used was invalid, however, and thus Ploceus melanotis became a subspecies. Read more here.

The first illustration of a Red-headed Weaver is by Lafresnaye 1839, followed by a colour painting published by Reichenbach 1863 - these both featured the northern subspecies, thought to be the nominate form at the time. The first illustration of the southern African race was published in Elliot (1876).

Scientific citation

Ploceus (Hyphantornis) rubriceps Sundevall 1850 Oefv. K. Sv. Vet.-Akad. Forhandl., vol. vii, p.97 'Caffraria superiore'; type from Mohapoani, Rustenberg district, W Transvaal (Gyldenstolpe, 1927, Ark. Zool. vol. 19A(1), p.12).

Meaning of names

rubriceps - Latin: ruber, red; -ceps, headed.

First English name

The black-eared Coucou-Weawer; The red-headed Coucou-Weawer (Reichenbach 1863).

Alternate names

Ayres's Weaver, Black-eared Scarlet Weaver, Gurney's Weaver Bird, Jubaland Anaplectes, Masked Red Weaver, Red Winged Anaplectes, Red winged Weaver, Scarlet-headed-Weaver, Yellow-winged Anaplectes.


Johan August Wahlberg.

Date collected

Oct-Nov 1843.

Locality collected

around Mohapoani = Witfonteinrant Mts, SW of Thabazimbi in Limpopo Province.

Type specimens

Three type specimens are in the Swedish Museum of Natural History and photos and details are on the web: NRM 568683, NRM 568684, and NRM 568685.
Two type specimens are in the Berlin Museum, ZMB_7281 and ZMB_7282.

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 [171] - Discovery [54]: Red-headed Weaver on 2015-09-23

1. Basic biology

Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
male A. r. leuconotos

Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
male A. r. rubriceps
Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver,
female A. r. rubriceps

Identification. The Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps, a striking weaver bird with bright red head in the breeding plumage of males. In West and East Africa the male has a black mask; one race in East Africa has a red plumage. The female is yellowish or brownish. Both sexes have a distinctive thin pinkish orange bill.
There has been some confusion about the scientific name of this species, which is Anaplectes rubriceps (read more here).

Distribution. This species is one of a handful of weavers that is widespread on the African continent, being found in woodland in West, East, central and southern Africa (see map below, based on Birds of Africa). In northern South Africa it is present at a low density. Many subspecies have been described and 3 are currently recognised.

A. r. leuconotos is found in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana east to Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan and Ethiopia, also in DRCongo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania (yellow on map). The male of this race has a black mask around the eye; both sexes have the margins of the remiges, wing-coverts and rectrices red, not yellow.
A. r. jubaensis is found in Somalia and coastal Kenya (green on map). The male is distinctive with the entire plumage red except for a black face, black edges to the scapulars, and blackish wing and tail feathers (broadly edged with red).
A. r. rubriceps is found in Angola, DRCongo, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland (red on map). The male has a red head, breast and upper back and yellow wing and tail edgings.

Habitat. The Red-headed Weaver inhabits broad-leaved woodland, bushveld, miombo and acacia savanna in subtropical to tropical moist regions. It is also found in gardens, especially on farms. Local movements between habitats occur seasonally in Botswana when some of its preferred deciduous habitat becomes inhospitable during the dry season.

Food. The Red-headed Weaver feeds mainly on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, mantids, Hemiptera bugs, and termites. It also feeds on spiders (e.g. social spiders Stegodyphus), fruit (e.g. mistletoe and figs), seeds, and snails. The young are fed on insects and spiders.

The Red-headed Weaver is usually solitary or in pairs, but also joins mixed bird parties for feeding. It forages mainly in trees, bushes and creepers among foliage, on dry fruit capsules and along branches, often hanging upside down. The foraging height in trees is 7.9 m high on average. It pecks at spider nests to extract spiders; and hawks insects in the air.

Breeding. The Red-headed Weaver is polygynous, and sometimes monogamous. It has a distinctive nest that is constructed of flexible twigs, leaf petioles and tendrils (rather than green grass as in most Ploceus weavers). Several nests may be present at one site, consisting of nests of previous breeding seasons. Sometimes it is colonial, and large colonies have occasionally been reported (see report about largest colony here).

Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver, nest
Red-headed Weaver
Red-headed Weaver, chicks in nest

Nests are usually built in trees, including baobabs. This species often builds its nests on man-made structures, including telephone lines and the roof edges of buildings. Old nests are often left hanging and may be used for breeding by other birds, especially Cut-throat Finches. Nests are often associated with raptor nests.

Incubation of the blue eggs is by both sexes, mostly by the female. The young are fed by both adults. The Red-headed Weaver is an occasional host to the Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius).

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [1]: Red-headed Weaver on 2012-06-20

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Generally polygynous, but some solitary monogamous pairs
Breeding season
Dec-Mar in Ghana and Togo, Nov-May in Nigeria, Feb-Apr, Oct and Dec in Ethiopia, Feb and May-Jul in Uganda, Mar-Jul, Sept-Nov and Jan in Kenya, Feb-May and Sept-Dec in Tanzania, Oct-Dec and Mar-May in Rwanda, Aug-Nov in SE DRCongo and Jan-Feb in NE, Sept-Nov in Angola, Aug-Dec in Zambia, Aug-Jan in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Sept-Feb in Botswana, and Oct-Mar in South Africa
Nest site
sited 1.5-15 m above ground near branch tip and with cover of leaves above, or sometimes attached to verandah or telephone line, or on pylon, or even inside building; nests near homesteads used in successive season
Nest building
Nest built by male
Colony size
Usually colonial, with up to nine nests together, rarely up to 40
Clutch size
2-4 eggs, usually 3
Egg colour
pale blue, often darker at thick end
Egg size
average size of 60 eggs 20.4 x 14 mm (South Africa)
incubation mainly or solely by female, period 12-13 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by both sexes, nestling period 12 days (Malawi), in captivity 17 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 30722

Vm 30712

Vm 30494

Vm 30414

Vm 30309

Vm 30232

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