Weaver species

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Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 009

Categories: Linnaeus, nectar, pest, Nest use, black and yellow bishops,
News items about species


Yellow Bishop
Yellow Bishop male,
figure from Brisson 1760
Yellow Bishop nest
Yellow Bishop male,
figure from Daubenton 1783
de La Caille
NL de La Caille,
figure from wikipedia
Yellow Bishop map
Yellow Bishop distribution,
type locality circled


Linnaeus (1766) briefly descriped the Yellow Bishop, based on the longer description in Brisson 1760. Mathurin Jacques Brisson, a French zoologist, gave the names "Le Pincon du Cap de Bonne Esperance" (French) and Fringilla Capitis Bonae Spei (Latin). Brisson's painting clearly shows the wing patch of the male.

Brisson noted that the Yellow Bishop originated from the Cape of Good Hope, from where specimens had been sent to RAF de Reaumur by Nicolas Louis de La Caille. de La Caille, a French astronomer, visited Table Bay (Cape Town) and went up the West Coast as far as Aurora to calculate the radius of the earth in the southern hemisphere. de La Caille arrived in Cape Town in 1751 (Forbes) and stayed for 2 years.

The first colour illustration of the Yellow Bishop is in the book by Edme-Louis Daubenton, containing coloured engravings by Francois-Nicolas Martinet.

The Yellow Bishop was well known in the Cape in the early days of settlement. The first published reference to the Yellow Bishop was by Johann Schreyer, a German soldier. He arrived in Cape Town in 1668 and stayed for several years to work as a surgeon. He wrote a book (Schreyer 1681) and described many birds and animals, and wrote of one bird: "Some birds are as large as sparrows, and as yellow as wax on their backs". Of all the birds in Cape Town, only the Yellow Bishop fits this description. This is one of the earliest published references to any weaver. Similarly, Schreyer wrote about the Southern Red Bishop.

Scientific citation

Loxia capensis Linnaeus 1766 Syst. Nat., ed. 12, 1, p.306 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

Cape Grosbeak (Latham 1783).

Alternate names

Black and Yellow Bishop Bird, Black-thighed Bishop Bird, Cape Bishop Bird, Cape Widow, Tropical Yellow Bishop Bird, Yellow-rumped Bishop, Yellow-Rumped Whydah, Yellow-rumped Widow.


de La Caille.

Date collected

Between 19 April 1751 and 8 March 1753 while de La Caille was in the Western Cape (source of dates).

Locality collected

Caput b. spei = Cape of Good Hope.

Type specimens

de La Caille's type specimens probably did not survive, but the painting of Brisson serves as a type.

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 [126] - Discovery [9]: Yellow Bishop on 2014-11-12

1. Basic biology

Yellow Bishop male
Yellow Bishop male
Yellow Bishop female
Yellow Bishop female

Identification. The Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis breeding male is black and yellow. It differs from the Yellow-crowned Bishop in being larger and having a black head. It differs from the Yellow-mantled Weaver in having a shorter tail and yellow rump (not mantle). The non-breeding male is dull with bright yellow rump and shoulders, being the only Euplectes species with a brightly coloured rump in the non-breeding plumage. The female Yellow Bishop has an olive rump and is more heavily streaked below then the female Yellow-mantled Widowbird.

Distribution. Yellow Bishop map The Yellow Bishop has many described subspecies and here 6 of these are recognised, based on Birds of Africa, see map right). The races differ in the wing and bill colour, and also in the size of the male.
E. c. phoenicomerus occurs in the highlands of Nigeria and Cameroon, and on Bioko Island (possibly introduced) (see light green on map). The breeding male has dark brown wings, black thighs, black upper bill often with white flecks, and a white or blue-grey lower bill.
E. c. xanthomelas occurs in the highlands of Ethiopia (see dark green on map). The breeding male resembles crassirostris, but is longer-winged and shorter-tailed.
E. c. crassirostris occurs in the Sudan, Uganda, DRCongo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa (see blue on map). The breeding male has black wings, mainly black thighs, upper bill black, lower bill white or blue-grey.
E. c. angolensis occurs in the highlands of Angola (see purple on map). The breeding male has brown wings and thighs, upper bill black and lower bill blue-grey.
E. c. capensis occurs in the Western Cape of South Africa (see red on map).
E. c. approximans occurs in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho (see yellow on map). The breeding male has brown wings and thighs, all- black bill, and is smaller than the nominate race.

Habitat. The Yellow Bishop inhabits montane grasslands in the north. It occupies some coastal and lowland areas in Tanzania. In South Africa, it ranges from coastal regions in macchia, cultivated lands, rank vegetation along streams and forest fringes up to mountain fynbos and high grasslands.

Food. The Yellow Bishop feeds on seeds, mainly grass seeds, and also on cultivated maize, rice and millet. It also feeds on insects like caterpillars, bugs, termites and ants. It forages singly and in pairs, and when not breeding it forms mixed foraging flocks.

phown 21
Yellow Bishop nest

Breeding. The Yellow Bishop is polygynous, with three or four females per male. It is solitary or found in small breeding groups. The male displays to females entering his territory, with yellow rump feathers puffed up and tail depressed, and flying on a zigzag course. The nest is domed with a side entrance, and placed above the ground in grass or in a small shrub. The nest is woven by the male from grass strips, and living grass may be woven into the structure. It is lined by the female with grass seedheads, which may project from the entrance to form a porch. The male nips off the tops of the herbs around the nest.

The clutch is 2-4 eggs, and the eggs are very variable in colour. The female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks, mainly by regurgitation. Many nests are lost to predation. The maximum recorded longevity is more than 11 years (see here).

Old nests of the Yellow Bishop may be used by Karoo Prinias Prinia maculosa or Zebra Waxbills Amandava subflava.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [73]: Yellow Bishop on 2013-11-06

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, with three or four females per male
Breeding season
Nov in Cameroon and Jul-Oct in Ethiopia; in DRCongo, Jul-Nov in Uele, Jan-Mar in Itombwe, Dec in Katanga, and Feb-Apr in Lubumbashi; in Kenya mainly Mar-Jun, also Nov-Feb, and May-Sept (dependent on rainfall) on Laikipia Plateau; Apr-May in Tanzania; Mar-May in Angola, Dec-Apr in Zambia, Jan-May in Malawi, Dec-Mar in Zimbabwe and Dec-Feb in Mozambique: in South Africa, Aug-Dec in winter-rainfall region, Nov-Mar in summer-rainfall area; often double-brooded
Nest site
placed 0.5-1.5 m above ground in grass or small shrub, male nips off tops of herbs around nest
Nest building
woven by male, lined by female
Colony size
Often solitary, and never truly colonial
Clutch size
2-4 eggs
Egg colour
very variable, five basic types, (i) bluish-white and heavily speckled with reddish-brown, (ii) green-tinged light brown and heavily blotched and streaked with dark brown and grey, (iii) olive-brown with ash-brown spots, (iv) cream or very pale greenish, evenly covered in bold freckling of olive, sepia and grey, (v) pale bluish-grey, blotched and spotted with reddish-brown and olive-brown
Egg size
average size of 25 eggs 21.3 x 15 m (South Africa)
incubation by female, 13-16 days, in captivity 13 days reported
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female, primarily by regurgitation, nestling period 16-20 days (14-15 days also reported)

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 29128

Vm 28713

Vm 28710

Vm 15775

Vm 960

Vm 945

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