Weaver species

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Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 006

Categories: golden, , acacias, fruit, waterbirds, gum, Linnaeus, Gymnogene, nectar, pest, Nest use, double nests, blue eggs, palm,
News items about species


Cape Weaver
Cape Weaver male,
figure by Martinet (in Daubenton 1783)
Brisson, first described
the Cape Weaver in great detail,
figure from wikipedia
phown 4953
Cape Weaver colony,
figure painted by Lady Anne Barnard
Cape Weaver map
Cape Weaver distribution,
type locality circled


After Linnaeus published his 10th edition of Systema Naturae, he came across many more species. His 12th edition (Linnaeus 1766) contains several more weavers, the first being the Cape Weaver. Linnaeus gave a very short description, based on the longer description in Brisson 1760.

Mathurin Jacques Brisson, a French zoologist, wrote his book on birds in several volumes, each page having 2 columns (one in French and one in Latin). Brisson gave the names "Le Carouge du Cap de Bonne Esperance" (French, for Oriole of the the Cape of Good Hope) and Xanthornus Capitis Bonae Spei (Latin). Many of Brisson's Latin names for birds were given before Linnaeus, but they were not constructed as binomial names, and thus do not qualify as scientific names.

Brisson noted that the Cape Weaver originated from the Cape of Good Hope. This could be from anywhere in the Cape but most likely the Cape Weaver was taken from the Cape Peninsula. Brisson found the Cape Weaver specimen in the bird collection of Abbe Octave Aubry, a French parish priest who was rector of Saint-Louis.

The Cape Weaver was first illustrated by Francois-Nicolas Martinet, under the supervision of Edme-Louis Daubenton, a French naturalist, in 1783. Martinet engraved and painted over 1000 colour plates for the Histoire naturelle (1749-89), providing the largest collection of bird paintings in the world at the time. Troupiale olive de Cayenne

The earliest written record referring to an African weaver that is identifiable, is a record of a Cape Weaver from 1630. Friar Francisco dos Santos was a Portuguese priest on the ship San Gonzales which became stranded in Formosa Bay (=Plettenberg Bay, South Africa) in June 1630. While stranded on land for 9 months, Santos wrote about the fauna and flora, the earliest record for the region. He described hanging weaver nests and the only known Ploceus weaver in Plet at that time was the Cape Weaver. Read the fascinating story here.

Two other interesting early records are paintings of weaver nests by Lady Anne Barnard from 1797 in Stellenbosch (PHOWN 4953) and 1798 a farm dam near Porterville (PHOWN 4954). Again, these can only belong to the Cape Weaver, since the Southern Masked Weaver did not occur in the Western Cape before 1900. Interestingly, the Cape Weaver does not appear to be common in Stellenbosch today, although it is very common in the surrounding farmlands.

Scientific citation

Oriolus capensis Linnaeus 1766 Syst. Nat. 12th ed. I, p.163 Cape of Good Hope

Meaning of names

capensis After the Cape of Good Hope (Modern Latin: Caput Bonae Spei; Portuguese: Cabo de Boa Esperanca), South Africa.

First English name

Olive Oriole (Latham 1782)

Alternate names

Olive Weaver, Cape Golden Weaver, Eastern Cape Weaver Bird, Golden-crowned Weaver bird, Yellow green Weaver-Bird



Date collected

Before 1760, when the Cape Weaver was first described.

Locality collected

Cap. b. spei = Cape of Good Hope (probably the Cape Peninsula)

Type specimens

No type specimens known to survive, but the painting of Martinet may serve as a type, although it may or may not be the same individual specimen as described by Brisson.

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 [123] - Discovery [6]: Cape Weaver on 2014-10-22

1. Basic biology

Cape Weaver Cape Weaver Cape Weaver

Identification. The Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis is a large weaver, with a long bill. The adult male (above left) in breeding plumage is bright yellow with varying amounts of orange-brown on the face, a black bill, and a pale eye. The female (above middle) is olive, with a yellow throat and belly, brown eye, and pale horn bill. Adult females usually have brown eyes, but 19% have pale eyes in summer and thus eye colour alone cannot be used to sex this species (read more at here). The male is in non-breeding plumage for a relatively short time when it resembles the female but is yellower below, and retains the pale eye. The juvenile (above right) is dull, with a yellowish belly.

Cape Weaver map

Distribution. No subspecies of the Cape Weaver are recognised and it is a near endemic to South Africa (see map left, based on The Atlas of Southern African Birds and on SABAP2). The stronghold of the species is in the Western Cape. Currently it seems to have decreased its range in some areas, particularly in the northern Free State and North-West Province (red grids on the map).

Habitat. The Cape Weaver inhabits open country with some trees and permanent water. In hot, drier regions it is restricted to montane areas. The Cape Weaver never occurs in forest.

This species is found in flocks, and it forms large roosts throughout the year, which may be shared with other weavers and species. In some areas they leave their breeding sites, and do not return until the following season. Anting has been recorded. Cape Weavers may bathe even in misty or rainy conditions.

Food. The Cape Weaver has a relatively long bill that is adapted to feeding on a wide variety of vegetable and animal matter. There is a long list of recorded food items, including various insects, spiders, seeds, nectar, and fruit. Females appear to have a more varied diet than males. They forage on the ground and may turn over small stones and dried cow-pats. They also search the bark of trees for insects, and hawk flying insects. Cape Weavers are generalist nectar-feeders that are now considered to be the major pollinators of aloes.

Cape Weaver

Breeding. The Cape Weaver is colonial and highly polygynous with up to 7 females per male. Males are strongly territorial within a colony, and males chase intruders off neighbouring territories. The nest (photo left from phown 1094) is built by the male. The nest is a bulky, kidney-shaped structure, with the entrance below and usually without an entrance tunnel. Males display from their nests to attract females. If a female accepts a nest, she lines it with fine grass.

Cape Weaver nests are mostly built in a variety of trees (n=725, PHOWN database), often exotics like gum, poplars, and willow trees, but also in indigenous trees like acacias. Nests are also built in reeds (n=140) and on man-made sites (n=9). Colonies may be large with up to 348 nests recorded, but the average colony size is around 20 nests.

Cape Weaver

Some interesting PHOWN records are: boomslang raiding colony phown 572 (photo right), colony in shopping mall phown 1260, and nests built on a building phown 1196. Cape Weavers also build their nests near nests of larger birds, like Hadedas or in heronries. Old nests may be used by Cape Sparrows Passer melanurus or African Dusky Flycatchers Muscicapa adusta.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [32]: Cape Weaver on 2013-01-23

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, with up to seven females per male
Breeding season
Jul-Nov in winter-rainfall region of Western Cape (even Jun when high rainfall occurs early in season) and Aug-Feb (sometimes to Apr) in summer-rainfall region
Nest site
supported on each side by reeds or bulrushes (Typha), or suspended from tip of branch, occasionally on fence or telephone line; placed low in reeds, often less than 1 m above water, but in trees up to 10 m above ground
Nest building
woven by male, lined by female
Colony size
Highly territorial
Clutch size
2-5 eggs (mean 2.6 in Western Cape)
Egg colour
plain deep tuquoise-blue
Egg size
average size of 23 eggs 25 x 16.6 mm (South Africa)
incubation by female, period 13-14 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female, late in season sometimes also by male, and some males contribute as much as does female

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 31117

Vm 31116

Vm 31094

Vm 31029

Vm 30915

Vm 30911

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