Weavers of South Africa (With Pictures)

Weavers of South Africa (With Pictures)

Weavers, what beautiful birds, especially during its frenetic breeding season. After molting, the males display their beautiful new colors.

This brings the annual race to start weaving and building their intricate nests. They use their excellent weaving skills to create elaborate nests in the hope of attracting a mate.

I love these birds and am fortunate to have three species of Weavers nesting outside my window. That being the Eastern Golden Weaver, the Broad-billed Weaver, and the Village Weaver.

Weavers are named after their beautifully woven nests. Their nests come in all different shapes and sizes. Each species has its own separate intricate architectural design.  Amazingly, if you go to a colony of a specific species of weaver anywhere in the world, every nest is identical. But not all Weavers make beautiful, tightly woven nests.

Here, we will explore the fascinating world of the different Weaver Species.


The fantastic thing about Weavers is the diverse environment in which they live, from the warm, dry west coast to the sub-tropical east coast. Also, their nest structures range from the enormous nests of the Sociable Weaver in the drier areas to the tight woven nest of the Eastern-Golden Weaver on the tropical east coast.

Weaver nest

The weavers typically feed on Insects, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, larvae, seeds, some plants and flowers, and even, in some cases, spiders. Basically, whatever they can forage in their areas.

Many of the yellow weavers’ nests can be found close to bodies of water, hanging in trees, or attached to reeds. These are usually made from grass stems, reeds, or peeled from palm trees. The males build these nests to attract females.

Home Selection

The females are very fussy and inspect the nests for sturdiness and robustness. If the nest is approved, the pair will soon start breeding once the female has lined the inside of the nest with grasses and soft foliage.

If the nest fails to impress the female, the male will typically break it down and start rebuilding in the hope of future success. What a lot of work!

In the case of a few weavers, the entrance length will be increased only once the female has accepted the nest. She never goes by his looks but how great an artisan he is.

Weavers are generally gregarious with the typical weaver-type staccato call that can only be described as ‘endless chattering.’ I have linked each species with their call so you can hear their calls.

The Yellow Weavers

In these first few species, the males always hang upside down and shake their bodies and wings rapidly, all while calling, looking for a mate—quite a sight to behold (and hear). Let’s take a look at these:

Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius)

It is one of the smaller weavers and stands at 14 cm. It has a black mask that reaches the middle of its crown and down to the neck, and the pale eyes in that dark mask captivate you.

The eye color makes the Lesser masked Weaver easily distinguishable from the similar-looking Southern Masked Weaver, which has red eyes. It builds its nest in large colonies in Savannah and woodlands but prefers to be closer to water.

Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius)

The nest of the Lesser Masked Weaver is relatively tight, robust, woven kidney shape, with the opening tunnel facing downward. It is built with reeds and grass, with little bits of grass sticking out, making it look untidy. Females will line the nest with soft material to protect the eggs.

The males are polygynous and may have up to 2-3 females simultaneously and a few more during the breeding season.

Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weaver (Ploceus subaureus)

They are a beautiful bird standing at around 15 cm, painted golden yellow with bright red eyes during the breeding season. You must see this bird with the full sun shining on it. They have a black bill. The female is a bit duller and has brown eyes.

Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weaver (Ploceus subaureus)

They roost communally and tend to create nests in reeds or trees near water together with other weavers. Their nest is a tight, compact, woven oval-to-round shape, the opening facing downward but with no tunnel. The nests are often attached to a single stem or supported by two stems of reeds.

They are also polygynous and always stay in the breeding season and breed between October and March.

Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)

This weaver is endemic to Southern Africa. It’s a little larger than the other weavers at about 17.5 cm. It tends to get confused with the Spectacled Weaver but is slightly larger with a bigger bill.

It has a chestnut wash over its forehead and down its neck. Its legs are brown, not grey, like theSpectacled Weaver. Its eyes are creamy to white.

Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)

Some Cape Weavers leave their breeding sites during winter and move further north where it is warmer. They usually return to the area in spring.

The Cape Weaver has a more prominent, neatly kidney-shaped nest with an entrance at the bottom to one side. They are also polygynous and may have up to 7 females during their breeding season.

Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)

It is about 15 cm high and slightly smaller than the Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus), which stands at 16cm. The black mask spreads from its forehead to its upper breast and skirts around its red eyes.

It is distinguished from the Village Weaver by not having a blotched back. Both the Southern Masked Weaver and the Village Weaver are polygynous and may have up to 3 mates.

Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)

Both species have very tightly woven nests with an opening at the bottom. It must be said that the most significant difference is that the Southern masked Weaver tends to avoid evergreen forests and prefers open scrub and savannah.

The males of the following groups of yellow weavers try to win their ladies by stretching exercises and getting up close and personal. These would be the following.

Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis)

The Spectacled Weaver stands at about 15.5cm. It is primarily golden yellow with a black mask that runs through the eyes from the bill, and the male has a small black bib. It can be distinguished from the larger Cape Weaver and lacks the chestnut wash on its forehead.

It has pale, striking yellow eyes and a slender black bill that stays black throughout the year. Both males and females have an olive back.

Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis)

The nest is mainly built by the male, tightly woven and retort-shaped, with the opening facing downward.

This nest is usually suspended from pendulous vegetation. Usually, the male extends the tunnel during incubation. They are monogamous, and a breeding pair will remain together for several consecutive years.

Holub’s golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops)

It is a very similar-looking bird to the Eastern Golden Weaver, except it is slightly bigger at 17cm with pale yellow eyes. It has an olive green back. These are uncommon residents in South Africa but tend to hang out in a more well-wooded environment at the forest’s edge.

Holub's golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops)

Their nest is a rather untidy, kidney-shaped ball with an opening at the bottom. They tend to be monogamous.

Weavers of Different Colors

Red-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis niger)

These black weavers are the biggest, as they stand 25 cm tall. They are predominantly black with red bills, small white wing patches, and slightly mottled flanks.

Their nests are a bulky structure of thorny branches divided into chambers with short tunnels. Here, the social order is interesting. Dominant males will own more of these chambers (1-8) than those lower in the social hierarchy.

The dominant male can “own” more females (usually 3), so he is polygynous. The more subordinate males own about three chambers and typically get to have one female.

Red-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis niger)

The male typically flops in front of the female with quivering wings and occasionally runs into a chamber, hoping the female will follow. If she does, he will defend their nest against any other male or female while she lines the nest. Once the nest is ready, they will aggressively defend their nest.

They are usually found in small flocks or hopping around on the ground, looking for food.

Dark-backed Weaver (Ploceus bicolor)

This is a beautiful bird with the most melodic call. The Dark-backed weaver sexes are alike with distinctive dark backs, yellow underparts, and pale bill. They are usually found in Woodlands.

Dark-backed Weaver (Ploceus bicolor)

They are smaller, around 15cm. They are monogamous and usually spend a couple of years with the same mate. Both males and females help build the short, retort-shaped, untidy nest with a long tunnel about 600 mm long. They tend to return to their nests during the breeding season.

They are found in small groups, hopping around the branches and feeding with other species in the forest.

Red-headed Weaver (Anaplectes melanotis)

This bird is unlike any other bird in South Africa. Its bright scarlet face, orange or reddish bill, and white underparts stand out. It has a dark grey back with yellow-tipped coverts. The female is similar, except the scarlet is replaced by dull yellow to orange.

Red-headed Weaver (Anaplectes melanotis)

It is also a solitary nester with a rough, retort-shaped but untidy nest usually made from pliable twigs, leaves, and grass stems. When ready, the male will call the female by hanging upside down, quivering his wings. They are primarily monogamous.

Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius)

As the name implies, these weavers are very sociable. Endemic to Southern Africa, they are the only weavers to build enormous nesting structures from grass in trees or telephone poles. It is the most remarkable structure built by birds.

Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius)

They create these colonies of close to 500 birds and are cooperative breeders. The pair will build their little nest chamber within this colossal structure.

They are a small weaver, about 14cm; mouse-colored with scaled flanks, a darker brown crown with a grey bill, and a black chin. They have a scalloped back.

Thick-billed Weaver (Amblyospiza albifrons)

Now, this species is my favorite. Bold and noticeable on the reeds where they make their extraordinary nests. They are 18 cm long and have dark brown plumage with a heavy bill. They have white wing patches and white patches on their forehead during breeding season.

On the other hand, the females are different, with yellow bills and white underparts with heavy stripes running up to their chests.

Thick-billed Weaver (Amblyospiza albifrons)

They make their large nests between two or more bullrush reeds nearer the top with an opening on the upper side. They are mostly silent.

They are polygynous and try to attract their mates by hanging onto a reed nearby and slowly flapping their wings. Once the mate is found, she starts to line her nest with softer materials.


Even to the most casual birder, Weavers are intriguing. Their exquisite looks, exceptional nest-building skills, and adaptability to survive in diverse environments make it imperative that they enjoy our protection.

Viewing these birds during breeding seasons with their beguiling colors and calls is a highlight for every birder.

With a little practice, it becomes easier to identify the individual species and observe their distinctive behaviors.

One can only admire the ingenious and energetic males as they feverishly weave their way into the hearts of the rather pernickety females.

Next time you are out birding, spend a little time observing these wonderfully industrious birds.

Join the discussion

  • Wow! Thanks so much Allan fir a very interesting article. As you say, wonderful, industrious little birds.
    My favourites: Thick-billed and Dark-backed.

  • Great work Allan , really informative info on behavioral traits of these incredible birds. Info you won’t normally find. Well done Allan