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White-winged Widowbird Euplectes albonotatus

IUCN: Least concern     Discovery: 050

Categories: , nectar, pest, blue-billed widows,
News items about species


White-winged Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird,
figure from Cassin 1849
White-winged Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird,
figure from Hartlaub 1863
White-winged Widowbird map
White-winged Widowbird
distribution, type locality circled


The White-winged Widowbird was formally described by John Cassin, an American ornithologist.

The White-winged Widowbird was collected by Jules Pierre Verreaux, a French botanist and ornithologist. Jules and his brothers were professional collectors of and traders in natural history specimens, who worked in South Africa and other parts of the world. The White-winged Widowbird specimens are labelled as Port Natal (Durban) and Cap. de B. Esp. (the Cape - Jules Verreaux worked at the South African Museum for several years, but the species would have been collected north of the Cape). Unfortunately, the Verreaux brothers did not usually keep good records on localities and dates of where specimens were collected. Although the precise collection locality is not certain, Durban is adequate as a type locality for the White-winged Widowbird.

White-winged Widowbird specimens were sent to the Verreaux business in Paris where Edward Wilson [see Stone 1899 p6] obtained 3 of the widow specimens to take to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, formerly the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP), the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the New World. Cassin was curator of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences and he described many species of bird as they arrived at the museum.

The first illustration of a White-winged Widowbird is a colour painting published by Cassin 1849. The second illustration was published by Hartlaub 1863, of the subspecies eques that was collected by John Hanning Speke.

Scientific citation

Vidua albonotata Cassin 1848 Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad., p65 Port Natal = Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

Meaning of names

albonotata/albonotatus - Latin albus, white; notatus, marked (notare, to mark).

First English name

The white-shouldered Widow (Reichenbach 1863).

Alternate names

Angola White-winged Whydah, Cinnamon-shouldered Widowbird, East African White-winged Whydah, The white-shouldered Widow, White-fronted Widow-Bird, White-winged Whydah.


Jules Verreaux.

Date collected

Long before 1848, but date unknown.

Locality collected

Port Natal = Durban.

Type specimens

ANSP 14224, ANSP 14225 and ANSP 14226 in Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

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 [167] - Discovery [50]: White-winged Widowbird on 2015-08-26

1. Basic biology

White-winged Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird male
White-winged Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird female

Identification. The White-winged Widowbird is a small widowbird with a fan-shaped tail. The male in breeding plumage is black with a white wing-patch and wing edgings, and white underwing; in southern African birds the epaulet (shoulder patch) is yellow (above left), while in East African birds it is cinnamon-rufous. Females (above right) and non-breeding birds may be identified in flight by the longish tail, white and yellow/rufous wing patches, and white underwing.

Distribution. The White-winged Widowbird is common in East and south-east Africa (see map below), based on Birds of Africa). Three subspecies are currently recognised:

E. a. albonotatus in eastern South Africa, north-east Botswana and Namibia, to southern Tanzania (intergrading with eques around Iringa and Dodoma) (see red on map left).

E. a. asymmetrurus found patchily from western Angola to western Gabon, and Sao Tome (see blue on map left). The tail of breeding males is much larger in this subspecies.

E. a. eques from southern Tanzania to southern Sudan and Ethiopia with isolated populations in western Sudan and Central African Republic (see green on map left). Breeding males have cinnamon-brown (not yellow) epaulets, and females and sub-adult males have the lesser coverts edged with cinnamon.

The White-winged Widowbird established a breeding population from escapees in the Sydney area in Australia, but apparently was extinct there by 1976 (read more here).

This species has shown a substantial range expansion in the Free State Province of South Africa since the 1990s. Ornithologists in the Free State attribute this to increased rainfall (see maps and report here).

Habitat. The White-winged Widowbird occurs in tall bushed grassland, generally below 2000m.

White-winged Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird nest

Food. The White-winged Widowbird feeds on grass seeds, nectar of Aloe marlothii, and insects, including termite alates. It feeds on millet in some areas and is sometimes a minor pest. The White-winged Widowbird catches termites on the ground or hawks them in the air, returning to a perch to eat them.

Breeding. This species is polygynous, with up to 4 females per male. The nest (right is oval with a large side entrance. The male builds the nest frame of dry and semi-green grass, supported by upright grass stems. The female adds a stouter weaving of finer dry grass, usually Sporobolus, inside the frame. Some nests have a small porch of projecting grassheads. Nests are usually sited below 1.5 m.

Eggs may be laid before the nest is lined. Only the female incubates and feeds the nestlings, mainly by regurgitation.

Nests are sometimes parasitized by the Diederik Cuckoo. Old nests may be used by Orange-breasted (Zebra) Waxbills.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [22]: White-winged Widowbird on 2012-11-14

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, with up to four females per male
Breeding season
Sept-Oct in Sudan, Jun in Ethiopia; Feb-Apr in Rwanda and S DRCongo; peak Mar-Jun and recorded also Sept and Dec-Feb in Kenya; Dec-Mar in Tanzania; Apr on Sao Tome, Jan-Apr in Angola, Zambia and Malawi, Dec-Feb in Botswana, Dec-Apr in Zimbabwe, Feb-Mar in Mozambique and Oct-Apr in South Africa
Nest site
supported by vertical grass stems
Nest building
male weaves framework
Colony size
Male defends territory of 600-1900 m2 against conspecifics
Clutch size
2-4 eggs (mean 2.6 in Zimbabwe)
Egg colour
pale greenish-blue, densely speckled with olive-green
Egg size
average size of 49 eggs 18.5 x 13.6 mm (South Africa)
incubation by female only, period 12-15 days
Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female, primarily by regurgitation, nestling period 11-14 days; young independent at 36 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 19022

Vm 19021

Vm 8635

Vm 8520

Vm 1032

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