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All 62 Weavers in Kenya

weavers in kenya
Spectacled Weaver in Tigoni, Kenya: Photo by Nathan Mixon

Introduction

From the dry scrub of Tsavo to the vast savannas of the Maasai Mara to the dense rainforest of Kakamega, Kenya’s birdlife leaves little to desire. Among the 1,100+ bird species that have been recorded in the East African nation, one family stands out: Ploceidae, the weavers.

Weavers in Kenya are a common sight – with around 60 species represented from the family, these birds are everywhere. And true to their name, you guessed it, they weave their nests. Often thought to all be primarily yellow, the weavers of Kenya come in a variety shapes, sizes, and colours, as do their woven nests. If you need help identifying weavers in Kenya, then read on. In this article, we’ll explore all the species of weavers in Kenya, their features, habitats, nests, and more!

How Weavers Weave Their Nests

Nestled amidst the swaying branches of acacia trees or tucked away in the reeds lining the waterways, the intricate nests of weavers stand as marvels of bird engineering. Weavers are renowned for their remarkable nest-building abilities, employing a variety of materials and techniques to construct their intricate abodes.

The process begins with the male weaver meticulously selecting a suitable location for the nest. With a keen eye for detail, he assesses the structural integrity of the site and evaluates the surrounding vegetation for potential threats or predators.

Once the perfect spot is chosen, the male weaver sets to work, gathering an assortment of materials ranging from primarily grasses and leaves to, for select species, strips of bark and even discarded feathers. With remarkable dexterity, he deftly weaves these materials together, creating a sturdy framework for the nest.

Using his beak as a precise tool, the male weaver intertwines the strands of vegetation, forming a tight-knit lattice that will serve as the foundation for the nest. With each movement, the nest begins to take shape, growing in size and complexity. As the construction progresses, the male weaver shapes the nest, sculpting it into a spherical or elongated structure depending on the species. He carefully reinforces weak points and adds additional layers of material to ensure the nest is both durable and secure.

Throughout the construction process, the male weaver continuously inspects his work, making adjustments and refinements as needed. His attention to detail is unparalleled, and each nest bears the unique imprint of his craftsmanship.

Finally, once the nest is complete, the male weaver proudly displays his handiwork to potential mates, using it as a symbol of his suitability as a partner. If impressed, the female weaver will inspect the nest, adding her own finishing touches before mating and eventually laying her eggs inside the nest.

Weavers in Kenya

(A note on the vocalizations: each species, where possible, has one audio recording included. Most, if not all, birds have a wide range of vocalizations, songs, and calls – even non-vocal sounds. To explore the variety of vocalizations that each species has explore the recordings in the Macaulay Library and Xeno-Canto!)

Buffalo Weavers

White-billed Buffalo Weaver (Bubalornis albirostris)

  • Features: White-billed Buffalo Weavers are a large, black species of weaver, recognized easily by their large white bill (duh!). They have white streaks on their sides and dark legs. Immatures are more of a dark brown with mottled undersides and a darker grey bill.
  • Behavior: These birds forage on the ground for insects, including looking in cow dung and taking ticks from the hides of cows.
  • Habitat: White-billed Buffalo Weavers can be found in small groups and flocks in dry acacia country and open farmland.
  • Range: White-billed Buffalo Weavers’ range in Kenya is the northwest, from Lake Bogoria north-west to the Ethiopian, Ugandan, and South Sudanese borders.
  • Nest: The nest, typically exceeding a meter in diameter, comprises a cluster of dry thorn twigs and branches. It contains up to ten individual nest chambers, each lined with grass, green leaves, rootlets, and wool. Positioned in thorny trees up to 10 meters above ground level, the primary structure is predominantly constructed by the male, who occasionally pilfers sticks from neighboring nests. Both male and female may contribute lining material, while the entrance may be encircled by protruding thorny twigs. Singular nests are an uncommon occurrence.

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver (Bubalornis niger)

  • Features: Red-billed Buffalo Weavers are similar in size and structure to White-billed Buffalo Weavers but have, you guessed it, red bills. Otherwise, these birds are black with white streaks on their sides and white patches on the sides of their breasts.
  • Behavior: Red-billed Buffalo Weavers can often be found foraging for insects, which make up at least half of their diets, on the ground with other species such as starlings, sparrows, shrikes, or hornbills.
  • Habitat: They can be found in dry bush country and mixed acacia wooded grassland.
  • Range: In Kenya, Red-billed Buffalo Weavers are found in appropriate habitat throughout most of the country, excluding the hottest, dryest areas in the far north. Kenya has the subspecies B. n. intermedius. Data is insufficient for the northeast of the country.
  • Nest: The nest is constructed by the male, comprising a mass of thorny twigs, each ranging from 15 to 75 centimeters in length. It accommodates up to 13 nest chambers, which are lined with fresh green vegetation by both sexes. Positioned 3 to 12 meters above ground level, these nests are typically found in tall trees. They may even be nestled in the base of a nest belonging to a Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis). Occasionally, they are located near homesteads or on man-made structures such as windmills or pylons. Material is continuously added throughout the breeding season, and these compound nests may endure for several years.

White-headed Buffalo Weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli)

  • Features: A distinct bird, the White-headed Buffalo Weaver has a white head with a thick, dark bill, brown back and tail, and a white front. In flight, it has a very conspicuous bright red-orange rump and wing patches. They are smaller than the other buffalo weavers.
  • Behavior: They eat insects, seeds, and fruit, foraging in groups on the ground. They are often found in mixed flocks.
  • Range: In Kenya, they are found in the right habitat throughout the country, except in the far west, Nyanza area. Subspecies D. d. boehmi is found in SE Kenya with the nominate subspecies found in the rest of Kenya’s range.
  • Habitat: White-headed Buffalo Weavers frequent acacia bush country and wooded grassland, the same as the other buffalo weavers.
  • Nest: The nest is jointly constructed by both sexes, forming a large oval structure approximately 0.5 meters in length. Its outer shell consists of thorny sticks, featuring a short entrance tube that opens downwards. The interior comprises a dome made of dry grass stems, meticulously lined with grass, leaves, and feathers. These nests are usually positioned 2 to 4 meters above ground level, either resting on a branch or suspended from the end or underside of a branch. Multiple nests within the same tree may belong to the same pair. Occasionally, these nests are taken over by African Pygmy-falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus) and Cut-throat Finches (Amadina fasciata).

Weavers (Sporopipes)

Speckle-fronted Weaver (Sporopipes frontalis)

  • Features: A small, sparrow-like weaver, the Speckle-fronted Weaver has a white-speckled, black forehead, with a red-orange nape and a black malar stripe. They have a dark brown back and are light brown or grey elsewhere.
  • Behavior: These birds forage on the ground, hopping around looking mainly for seeds.
  • Habitat: Found in dry scrub and thorn thickets in semi-arid regions.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies S. f. emini ranges throughout much of the country’s western half, not being found closer to the coast and the northeast, as far as data can claim.
  • Nest: The nest is a substantial, disheveled ball crafted from dry grass, featuring an entrance tunnel situated at the side. It is typically lined with finer materials and occasionally adorned with a few grass seedheads, though feathers are a rare addition. Positioned 2 to 6 meters above ground level, these nests are often nestled within shrubs or trees.

Sparrow-Weavers

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali)

  • Features: This bird is like a big sparrow and has a wide white stripe around its eyes and a white patch on its rear. Its head is brown with a big white stripe above its eye and brown patches on its cheeks. The back of its neck and body are brown but lighter than its head, while its rear and tail feathers are white. Its wings and tail are brown with white tips, forming lines on its wings. Its belly is white with a bit of buff color on the sides. Its eyes are dark brown, and its bill can be pale brown or black. Its legs are brown.
  • Behavior: Very sociable birds, often nesting in colonies and found in flocks either at nests or on the ground. They are well-known to be quite tame and suited to urban habitats.
  • Habitat: White-browed Sparrow-Weavers favour dry bush country and acacia habitat.
  • Range: Found pretty much throughout the entire country. Subspecies P. m. melanorhynchus found in Kenya. Just go to a car park somewhere and you’ll find some.
  • Nest: Nests are constructed throughout the year, with a higher frequency after rainfall, and are sometimes utilized for roosting by individual birds. These nests are typically horizontal cylinders made of dry grasses, approximately 30 cm long and 18 cm in diameter, supported by branches with entrances at each end. The grasses are bent but not woven, and it takes about 10 to 18 days to complete construction. Around 60% of these nests are converted into breeding nests by closing off one entrance and lining the interior with feathers, often sourced from guineafowl (Numida), with as many as 858 feathers found in a single nest.

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser superciliosus)

  • Features: A tad smaller than other sparrow-weavers, the Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver is brown on its upper back with a chestnut-brown nape, crown, and “ears.” Front is white, as is the supercilium. There are both black and white stripes on the throat and wingbars.
  • Behavior: Often found walking or hopping on the ground looking for seeds.
  • Habitat: Local and uncommon in dry bush and wooded areas, often in rocky areas.
  • Range: In Kenya, found in Kabarnet and north-west through Eldoret and Kitale to Uganda border.
  • Nest: The nest is a horizontal tube made of dry grass stems, situated as high as 6 meters above ground on branches, often with several nests found in a single tree.

Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser donaldsoni)

  • Features: Donaldson Smith’s Sparrow-Weavers are mottled grey and brown from the forecrown down the back. The throat is white and the underside white and brown mottling. Bill is black and there is a thin black malar stripe down the side of the throat.
  • Behavior: Feeds on grass seeds and insects, foraging on the ground in groups. They are thought to be cooperative breeders.
  • Habitat: These birds inhabit dry bushland, open woodlands, grasslands, rocky terrain, and even barren lava landscapes.
  • Range: Found in Northern Kenya from around Isiolo north and east, in suitable habitat.
  • Nest: The nest, resembling those of other sparrow-weavers, is a tube made of dry grass stems. It is typically positioned 1.5 to 3 meters above the ground in low thorn trees or bushes, with as many as 20 nests sometimes found in a single tree.

Rufous-tailed Weaver

Rufous-tailed Weaver (Histurgops ruficauda)

  • Features: Rufous-tailed Weavers are mottled grey-brown birds with beautiful pale blue eyes and a dark tail with reddish edges. Wings also show a lot of rufous in flight.
  • Behavior: They are often tame and found in in flocks on the ground, usually making a lot of noise.
  • Habitat: This bird species is commonly found in thornveld and grassland areas, particularly favoring habitats with black cotton soils.
  • Range: Nearly endemic to Northern Tanzania, Rufous-tailed Weavers can sometimes be found in the Maasai Mara ecosystem in southeastern Kenya.
  • Nest: The nests, typically round in shape and crafted from grass, occasionally feature feather linings. These structures are frequently repurposed by other bird species, including starlings and Fischer’s Lovebirds (Agapornis fischeri).

Social Weavers

Grey-capped Social Weaver (Pseudonigrita arnaudi)

  • Features: Grey-capped Social Weavers are small, brown-ish weavers with a clear grey crown, or cap. In flight, you can see a grey tip of the tail which can also be distinctive. Immature is similar but with a duller brown cap.
  • Behavior: They feed on grass seeds and insects, usually in groups. Grey-capped Social Weavers are known to be cooperative breeders as well.
  • Habitat: Grey-capped Social Weavers prefer a pretty wide variety of bush and wooded country, not excluding semi-arid regions in Kenya.
  • Range: In Kenya, the nominate subspecies is present in central and southern Kenya, down to the northwestern part of Tanzania.
  • Nest: Nests are suspended from slender branches, commonly found in Vachellia drepanolobium trees, and occasionally in other acacia species. These roofed nests feature sturdy walls constructed from grass straws, which withstand the dry climate for extended periods. Often, nests are built adjacent to existing ones, with two or three nests positioned side by side or underneath older ones. Prior to egg-laying, one of the entrances is sealed shut, only to be reopened around the time the chicks fledge.

Black-capped Social Weaver (Pseudonigrita cabanisi)

  • Features: Slightly larger than Grey-capped Social Weavers, Black-capped Social Weavers are still small birds. They are brown on the back and wings but have a black cap and tail. Their fronts are white from the throat to the belly and they have a light, cream-coloured bill.
  • Behavior: Behaves pretty similarly to Gray-capped Social Weavers, but will also feed on moist plant parts to get water, since they are in drier areas.
  • Habitat: They prefer dry country more so than the Grey-capped Social Weavers and can live in pretty arid areas, as long as there are large trees available for breeding.
  • Range: In Kenya, this species is found in suitable habitat in the dry north and south to the Tsavo region.
  • Nest: Both male and female construct the roofed nests, which hang from slender branches and are composed of numerous straight grass straws. These nests feature two downward-facing entrances, with one sealed shut shortly after egg-laying until the fledging of the young.

Malimbes

Red-headed Malimbe (Malimbus rubricollis)

  • Features: The Red-headed Malimbe is an all black forest weaver with a red crown and nape. Females differ only in that their forecrown is black and not red.
  • Behavior: Common in forests, these birds feed in a style similar to nuthatches, scaling long branches to look for food. They are often found with other species.
  • Habitat: Red-headed Malimbes favour the canopy of good, largely old-growth forest.
  • Range: In Kenya, these birds of the subspecies R. m. centralis are restricted to the rainforests of western Kenya, such as Kakamega, and are the only malimbe species recorded in the country.
  • Nest: The nest is retort-shaped, featuring a short, wide entrance tunnel approximately 25 cm long. In some instances, 2–3 nests may merge together, with tunnels extending outward, forming a globular mass. Constructed primarily from tendrils of creepers, grass blades, and rootlets of epiphytic orchids, the brood-chamber is typically unlined. These nests are suspended from the top below a branch, ranging from 6 to 30 meters above ground in secondary habitats, and up to 30–45 meters high in primary forests.

Weavers (Anaplectes)

Red-headed Weaver (Anaplectes rubriceps)

  • Features: The appearance of the Red-headed Weaver varies depending on the subspecies, only one of which can be found in Kenya. The subspecies A. r. leuconotos has a black mask, red primary panel, and white plumage from the breast to the vent.
  • Behavior: The red-headed weaver forages for insects individually or in pairs, scouring leaves and branches for food. It can be spotted on foliage and branch tips in shrubs, young trees, and larger ones alike. Often, it hangs upside-down, employing its bill to open clusters of dead leaves and probe bark for insects. The bird also captures flying insects like alate termites and moths, which it strikes against a surface to remove their wings. Furthermore, it pecks at spider nests to extract its prey.
  • Habitat: Solitary individuals or pairs are abundant and widely distributed across a diverse range of habitats, including woodlands, bushlands, grasslands dotted with trees, and gardens.
  • Range: The subspecies A. r. leuconotos can be found throughout much of Kenya (particularly western Kenya), excluding the most arid regions.
  • Nest: Typically, they construct their nests using dry sticks gathered from their surroundings, often suspending them from trees and shaping them like raindrops. However, Red-headed Weavers occasionally opt for man-made structures for nesting. An identifiable trait of their nests is the extended entrance tunnel, a characteristic more frequently observed in the Malimbus genus.

Red Weaver (Anaplectes jubaensis)

weavers in kenya
Illustration by Tim Worfolk: Courtesy of Birds of the World
  • Features: Formerly considered a subspecies of A. rubriceps, the Red Weaver is all red with touches of black on the wings and tail.
  • Behavior: Like Red-headed Weavers, individuals or pairs are plentiful and found across a wide array of habitats, such as woodlands, bushlands, grasslands with scattered trees, and gardens.
  • Habitat: Typically encountered in damp coastal shrubland and woodland, particularly near streams, at lower altitudes.
  • Range: In Kenya, Red Weavers are limited to the northern coast, with populations more common across the Somali border.
  • Nest: Presumed similar to that of Red-headed Weavers, but little data to back this up.
  • Voice: The vocalizations have yet to be fully documented, but they may bear resemblance to those of the Red-headed Weaver.

Weavers (Ploceus)

Baglafecht Weaver (Ploceus baglafecht)

  • Features: The adult male baglafecht weaver is characterized by a black mask extending from the bill to the ear coverts, contrasting with a bright yellow forehead, forecrown, and throat. Its upperparts are yellowish-green with faint streaking, while the underparts transition from vibrant yellow on the breast to white towards the vent. The tail displays a yellow wash over dark brown, and both the bill and eye are black. In contrast, the female (pictured above) lacks a mask and features dusky lores with a yellowish-green cap. During non-breeding plumage, the mask is mostly lost, with greyish-brown upperparts and white-washed buff underparts. Juveniles and immature birds lack a mask on their dark-yellowish green heads.
  • Behavior: The baglafecht weaver typically breeds alone rather than in colonies. It is frequently territorial and shows aggression towards other birds, and it is unafraid of people.
  • Habitat: Baglafecht Weavers inhabit forest edges, woodlands, gardens, and urban areas.
  • Range: The subspecies P. b. reichenowi is found throughout the highlands of Kenya with P. b. emini known rarely from northwestern Kenya.
  • Nest: The nests are casually woven and typically positioned within the foliage of trees or bushes.

Little Weaver (Ploceus luteolus)

  • Features: Little Weavers are, as the name suggests, small weavers with a light yellow nape, chest and belly, and vent. Less of the orange-ish yellow that many other weavers have. Breeding male has a blaack mask that extends up to the forecrown, and brown eyes. Back, wings, and tail are dark green.
  • Behavior: Little Weavers feed on seeds and insects. Both parents are involved in feeding and raising chicks.
  • Habitat: Found in savanna woodlands characterized by large acacia trees, as well as in more open and arid scrublands. They also frequent the edges of cultivation areas and large gardens. Typically found in lowland regions in East Africa.
  • Range: Generally restricted to the western parts of Kenya from Nakuru north and west.
  • Nest: Constructed by the male, the nest is globular in shape with a vertical entrance tube measuring 5–30 cm in length. It is woven from fine grass stems, grass blades, vine tendrils, and strips torn from fronds palm trees. The interior is lined with grass seedheads and other fine materials. Suspended 3–5.5 meters above the ground from a thorny branch, construction takes approximately 3–4 days. After completion, the male may continue to work on the entrance tunnel.

Slender-billed Weaver (Ploceus pelzelni)

  • Features: Breeding male Slender-billed Weavers look quite similar to Little Weavers but have a distinctly long and streamlined bill.
  • Behavior: They are known to eat insects, especially caterpillars and ants. They forage, glean, and pick at pretty much every level of the trees they feed in. In fact, they have a special foot structure that is adapted for climbing on papyrus.
  • Habitat: They inhabit papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) and other tall vegetation along lakes and wetland areas, where they forage in trees, bushes, ambatch (Aeschynomene elaphroxylon) thickets, adjoining lagoons, marshes, rice fields, and mangroves. Additionally, they are known to frequent gardens and hedges in urban areas.
  • Range: In Kenya, they are limited to the southwest, most common around Lake Victoria.
  • Nest: The nest is primarily constructed by the male, occasionally with assistance from the female. It is typically ball-shaped and often lacks an entrance tunnel, or may have a very short one. The outer shell is roughly woven from strips of grass or papyrus leaf, while the interior is lined with fine grass strips, as well as some seedheads and feathers, which may be added during incubation. The nest is usually situated 1.5-9 meters above ground or over water, attached to papyrus heads, palm fronds, or pendulous thorny branches. Occasionally, two nests may be found on the same support, but only one is typically occupied. Old nests are sometimes utilized by the Dusky-blue Flycatcher (Bradornis comitatus).

Black-necked Weaver (Ploceus nigricollis)

  • Features: Males and females of this species are black and yellow. Males show a very short black eyestripe (covering only the eye, really) and throat with the black on the back only just reaching the lower nape. Females have a longer eyestripe and a black crown. Eyes are red.
  • Behavior: These birds are most likely to be seen walking around steadily in the cover of bushes.
  • Habitat: In Kenya, the nominate subspecies is present in highland thickets and moist forests, primarily inhabiting regions with over 1,000 mm of rainfall annually. Conversely, P. n. melanoxanthus is commonly observed at lower elevations and in significantly drier environments.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is found in western Kenya with the P. n. melanoxanthus subspecies having a distribution in the central and eastern parts of the country.
  • Nest: The nest, built mainly by the male, takes on a shape similar to a retort (see the Red-headed Malimbe above), featuring an entrance tunnel of up to 20 cm in length but narrow, measuring less than 5 cm in diameter. It is crafted from grass or wiry Agrostis, with vine stems or tendrils of creepers commonly utilized. The weaving is often loose, and the lining is not thick, sometimes allowing the eggs to be visible from outside.

Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis)

  • Features: Adults are mostly yellow with green-ish wings and back and a black eyestripe that extends just beyond the eyes, which are yellow. Males have a black throat stripe.
  • Behavior: Spectacled Weavers are known to eat mainly insects, occasionally feeding on other small animals, such as spiders, geckos, and frogs.
  • Habitat: They inhabit woodlands ranging from savannas with sparse trees to bushy thickets and wooded valleys, as well as forest margins and lush gardens.
  • Range: Kenya has two subspecies. P. o. crocatus is found in western Kenya while the subspecies P. o. suahelicus is found east of the Rift Valley.
  • Nest: The nest is primarily constructed by the male, with occasional observation by the female until she adds lining before egg-laying. Sometimes, nests are built collaboratively, or the female participates irregularly in construction. The process typically takes 1–3 weeks, and the nest may be completed long before egg-laying commences. It adopts a retort-shaped structure, typically featuring an entrance tunnel approximately 10 cm long, wide enough for birds to pass each other inside.

Black-billed Weaver (Ploceus melanogaster)

  • Features: Black-billed Weavers are primarily black forest weavers. All black with a yellow mask, excluding the area around the eyes. In females, the yellow also extends to the throat. Eyes are red.
  • Behavior: They eat insects, searching in undergrowth, gleaning off the underside of leaves and occasionally going to the ground where they hop around, usually as individuals or in pairs.
  • Habitat: Black-billed Weavers favor montane forest at higher elevations, from 1500-3000m.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies P. m. stephanophorus can be found in western and central Kenya, as far east as the Cherangani range, in suitable habitat.
  • Nest: The nest is retort-shaped, with an opening below and an internal ledge, although some nests may have a tunnel. It is woven from sturdy grass stems and lined with finer materials. Suspended 3–6 meters above the ground, sometimes over a stream, from the tip of a branch, tendril of a creeper, or tree-fern frond, it is easily visible. Old nests are occasionally taken over and used by the Dusky-blue Flycatcher.

Eastern Golden Weaver (Ploceus subaureus)

  • Features: Also known as the African Golden Weaver, males are mostly a drab yellow, with a dull orange head (sometimes looks very much the same color as the body) and light red eyes, a distinguishing characteristic. Females lack the orange head and are more streaked on the back and wings.
  • Behavior: They eat seeds, including rice seeds, foraging in mixed flocks. They also are known to roost with other weaver species.
  • Habitat: They are commonly found in coastal plains, low-lying river valleys, and river floodplains, typically within 50 kilometers of the coast. However, they can also extend up to 100 kilometers inland along river valleys.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies P. s. aureoflavus is most common in the southeast with some records further north and central, in Nairobi or Laikipia.
  • Nest: The nest is typically oval to spherical in shape, with the entrance located on the underside. It is meticulously woven from grass blades or strips torn from reeds and lined with soft Eragrostis inflorescences, occasionally including a few feathers. Positioned 1–2 meters above the ground or water, it is often attached to a single reed stem on one side, although sometimes it is supported by a reed on each side or suspended from a low bush.

Holub’s Golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops)

  • Features: Holub’s Golden Weavers are large, fat weavers that are almost completely yellow, slightly greener on the back and wings. They have a noticeably stocky black bill, yellow eyes and sometimes an orange tinge to the throat. Females are a bit duller and lack the orange throat, but otherwise similar.
  • Behavior: These weavers eat insects, seeds, invertebrates, and nectar, foraging in the forest canopy. You are unlikely to see large groups of Holub’s Golden Weavers.
  • Habitat: They inhabit bushy areas characterized by tall grass, as well as forest edges and streamside habitats.
  • Range: In Kenya, they are found in the central area from Meru and Nanyuki south and west to Amboseli, Kisumu, and Kitale.
  • Nest: The nest, primarily built by the male with some help from the female for lining, is a bulky, kidney-shaped structure with an entrance located below. It is woven from broad-bladed grass and lined with grass heads, stems, and occasionally feathers. Typically suspended 2–2.5 meters up from a tall bush or reeds, it may also be positioned over water or slung between reeds. Despite several nests being built in the territory, only one is usually occupied.

Orange Weaver (Ploceus aurantius)

  • Features: Unlike most weavers, which are primarily yellow, these birds are, you guessed it, deep orange all over. Their back and wings are more of a green color. Bill is pinkish-brown, not black and their eyes are grey, often appearing black.
  • Behavior: Orange Weavers feed primarily on fruits and insects. They are usually found in pairs or small groups.
  • Habitat: Found inland along major rivers and in papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) swamps around Lake Victoria, ranging from sea level to 1200 meters in altitude.
  • Range: The subspecies P. a. rex is known only from the extreme west of Kenya with only a handful of records from the Kisumu area.
  • Nest: Constructed primarily by the male, the nest is ovoid in shape, featuring a short tunnel in East Africa (which it lacks in its West African range). It is tightly woven from grass or palm strips and positioned 1.5-3 meters above water in reeds or similar vegetation, or up to 5 meters over land in a tree or bush.

Golden Palm Weaver (Ploceus bojeri)

  • Features: Very similar to the Eastern Golden Weaver, this species has a brighter orange head and dark eyes, contrasted to the red eyes of the Eastern Golden Weaver. The bill is also a bit stockier and heavier than that of Eastern Golden Weavers.
  • Behavior: These are gregarious birds, feeding on insects and seeds and found in mixed colonies.
  • Habitat: Found in palm savannas along the coast, as well as riverine vegetation, extending into savannas in regions below 1200 meters altitude and with more than 500 mm annual rainfall.
  • Range: In Kenya, where the majority of this species’ range lies, they are best found in the coastal region and inland along rivers, particularly the Tana River.
  • Nest: The nest is spherical in shape, lacking an entrance tunnel, and constructed by the male using strips of grass or palm frond. It is then lined by the female with leaf fragments and fine grass heads. Typically, it is suspended low over water from a tree branch, or attached 1.5-4 meters above ground to tall grass or a bush. Sometimes, it is positioned on the underside of a palm frond, reaching heights of more than 10 meters above ground. Additionally, nests are occasionally built in bulrushes, bamboos, and, less frequently, in Phragmites reeds.

Taveta Weaver (Ploceus castaneiceps)

  • Features: Mostly yellow, the males sport an orange band on the upper breast and on the back of its head, with its face yellow. Eyes are dark brown, appearing black. Female is more green-looking with lots of heavy streaking.
  • Behavior: Flocks are common in swampy areas and adjacent woodland.
  • Habitat: During breeding, they inhabit swampy lowland areas, otherwise preferring adjacent drier bush country. This habitat is typically found below 1500 meters in altitude.
  • Range: Endemic to East Africa and restricted to a small area that straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border, this species is best found in the Tsavo and Amboseli ecosystems.
  • Nest: The nest, typically spherical or ovoid in shape, is woven from strips of reed leaf blades and suspended over water in reeds, bulrushes, or from overhanging trees.

Northern Brown-throated Weaver (Ploceus castanops)

  • Features: Mostly yellow, but with a brown mask and throat that extends to the upper breast. Eyes are white. Females more green-brown, particularly above and on the crown.
  • Behavior: They eat seeds and insects, foraging in mixed flocks.
  • Habitat: They are commonly found in waterside vegetation along lakes and rivers, especially among papyrus and ambatch. During the non-breeding season, they may also visit forest and woodland habitats. Their range extends up to 2100 meters in altitude.
  • Range: In Kenya, Northern Brown-throated Weavers are found only in the western-most region, near and around Lake Victoria.
  • Nest: The nest is rounded and tightly woven, featuring an entrance below and a small projecting porch. Constructed by the male using strips of grass and creepers, it is lined with fine grass and occasionally feathers. The nest is typically positioned in tall elephant grass or low shrubs, while in swamps, it can be found among reeds, papyrus, or bulrushes.

Northern Masked Weaver (Ploceus taeniopterus)

  • Features: Males have a black mask that extends from behind the eyes and the forecrown to the upper breast. Otherwise yellow with green-ish wings and tail. Eyes are dark brown, appearing black. Females also have dark eyes and buffy breasts, not very yellow.
  • Behavior: Northern Masked Weavers eat seeds and forage in flocks. They also form large roosts away from their breeding sites, typically in marshes.
  • Habitat: They inhabit tall grasslands with scattered acacia trees (Acacia), often found along larger rivers and in swamps.
  • Range: The best places to find Northern Masked Weavers in Kenya are at Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. They are also known from the northern end of Lake Turkana.
  • Nest: The nest is oval-shaped with an entrance located below, lacking a tunnel. The outer shell is woven by the male using strips of grass, while the inner layer consists of thick broad grass strips and a ceiling of grass heads. The lining, likely contributed by the female, consists of plant or papyrus down on the floor. It is supported by vertical stems of reeds, grass, or papyrus.

Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius)

  • Features: Similar to Northern Masked Weavers, Lesser Masked Weavers are mostly yellow with a black mask that comes from the forecrown to the upper breast. Their eyes, however, are whitish, distinguishing them from other similar-looking weavers.
  • Behavior: Forage mostly in the canopy of wooded areas, looking for insects.
  • Habitat: They prefer bushed and wooded grasslands, as well as cultivated areas, especially those near water sources. They are often found in close proximity to human habitation.
  • Range: In Kenya, the nominate subspecies is found pretty much throughout the country in the right habitat, barring the extreme northeast.
  • Nest: The nest is kidney-shaped, featuring a short entrance tube approximately 5 cm long. Constructed by the male using strips of grass blades, it is situated in reeds or in trees over water or open ground, sometimes even among exotic species such as eucalyptus. Alternatively, it may be suspended from a roof edge or telephone line, typically positioned 1–3 meters above ground. After accepting the nest, the female lines it with grass heads.

Vitelline Masked Weaver (Ploceus vitellinus)

  • Features: Similar to the other masked weavers, Vitelline Masked Weavers can be differentiated by their red eyes and the mask that barely extends above the bill, not reaching the forecrown at all. Their legs are also more pink-ish than other similar weavers.
  • Behavior: They forage for insects and nectar. Usually found in pairs or as individuals.
  • Habitat: They reside in dry savanna woodland and arid scrubland, such as those found in the Sahel region. Typically found below 1800 meters, they can be observed up to 2000 meters on the Laikipia Plateau in Kenya.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies P. v. uluensis ranges from throughout most of the country, given the right habitat.
  • Nest: The nest, woven by the male, is oval or pear-shaped and tightly constructed, often likened to a new ball of string. It features a very short entrance tunnel below or lacks a tunnel altogether. The ceiling consists of grass-heads of different species, while the interior is lined with softer grass-heads. Typically suspended from a single point of attachment, in Kenya, it is positioned over water, while elsewhere it is often found in trees far from water.

Heuglin’s Masked Weaver (Ploceus heuglini)

  • Features: Similar to Vitelline Masked Weaver with a black mask that doesn’t extend above the bill, Heuglin’s Masked Weavers can be distinguished by their more mottled green mantle and yellow eyes.
  • Behavior: Heuglin’s Masked Weavers consume mostly arthropods from spiders to dragonflies to grasshoppers.
  • Habitat: They inhabit savanna woodlands, coastal thickets, secondary scrublands, and areas around farms and villages. Typically found in dry, tall woodland regions.
  • Range: In Kenya, Heuglin’s Masked Weavers are found only in the northwest, around Kitale and Mount Elgon.
  • Nest: The nest, shaped like a kidney, features a tunnel up to 20 cm long extending from its entrance. It is coarsely woven by the male using strips of grass or grass stems, typically suspended at two points. Lined with downy flowerheads of grasses, it is often placed in a tree or attached to a telephone line, with each nest woven to the wire throughout its width.

Speke’s Weaver (Ploceus spekei)

  • Features: The breeding male of Speke’s Weaver is very similar to Heuglin’s Masked Weaver but rather than green mottled back, Speke’s Weavers have a yellow and black mantle. Otherwise, very much the same with a mask that stops at the bill and yellow eyes. Speke’s Weavers are slightly larger than Heuglin’s.
  • Behavior: They eat the seeds of crops such as maize, and insects. Found mostly in flocks.
  • Habitat: Found in bushy and wooded areas with access to water, typically at elevations ranging from 1200 to 2200 meters. In Nairobi, they are commonly seen in urban and suburban areas.
  • Range: In Kenya, Speke’s Weavers are found in the central and southwestern regions.
  • Nest: The nest is oval and bulky, featuring a short spout around the entrance. Constructed by the male, often before the first females appear, it is woven from grass stems, sometimes with leaves attached, giving it a rough appearance. The ceiling is made of grass-heads and some acacia leaves, while the female lines it with grass-heads and occasionally a few feathers. Typically attached to a branch on the upper surface, mostly in thorn trees. In Nairobi, they are often found near busy roads or occupied buildings. Unused or partly completed nests are frequently demolished by the male.

Vieillot’s Black Weaver (Ploceus nigerrimus)

  • Features: Vieillot’s Black Weaver males are entirely black, but for their brown legs and yellow eyes. Not likely to be mistaken for another weaver in Kenya (Maxwell’s Black Weaver (P. albinucha) is very similar but found in western Uganda and west from there). Females and immatures are streaked and dark green above and yellow-green below.
  • Behavior: Their diet is not well described but includes insects. They are boisterous, social birds that are often found in mixed flocks with other weavers and other species.
  • Habitat: They inhabit forest clearings, frequently found in villages, wooded areas, and tall-grass savannas. While closely associated with forested areas, they are not typically found in intact forests. In Kenya, they inhabit high-rainfall regions at elevations of 1000 to 2000 meters.
  • Range: In Kenya, Vieillot’s Black Weavers are best found in Kakamega Forest in the west.
  • Nest: The nest is oval in shape with a rough exterior and a diameter of 45 mm for the entrance, situated below without a tunnel. It is woven by the male using strips of palm leaves or grass, taking approximately 9 hours to complete. The interior is lined with grass seed heads by the female. These nests are typically placed in bulrushes, tall elephant grass, palms, bamboo, or trees, and can be located up to 25 meters above the ground. Colonies of these birds are often found near human habitation.

Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)

  • Features: Two subspecies are found in Kenya. In both forms, the breeding males have big red eyes, a heavy bill, and a black hood that extends to the breast. In P. c. bohndorffi, the hood stops at the forecrown, leaving a yellow upper crown, nape, and mantle. In P. c. nigriceps, the black hood covers the crown and the back is spotted yellow and black.
  • Behavior: These are some noisy birds. They are often in large, mixed flocks, forming big communal roosts. Known for feeding on insects and seeds.
  • Habitat: They inhabit bushy savannas, riverine woodlands, wetlands, cultivated areas, rural villages, urban and suburban gardens, as well as villages and clearings in forests. In East Africa, they can be found up to 2500 meters, while elsewhere they are typically found below 1500 meters.
  • Range: P. c. bohndorffi is found in western Kenya while P. c. nigriceps is found in more central and southern Kenya.
  • Nest: The nest is spherical, featuring a downward-facing spout-like entrance, sometimes with a very short tunnel. It is woven by the male within approximately 11 hours, typically using strips torn from reed or palm leaves. The nest walls are thickened, and the roofing layer often includes broad leaves from trees like eucalypts or acacias. The female lines the nest with leaves, grass-heads, and some feathers. It may be suspended from drooping branches or supported at the sides by reeds, usually positioned 6–18 meters above the ground. In tall forest trees, it can reach heights of up to 30 meters, while in wetlands, it is typically only 1–2 meters above the water.

Weyns’s Weaver (Ploceus weynsi)

  • Features: Breeding male can look quite similar to the Dark-backed Weaver but Weyns’s Weaver has a black pill, yellow eyes, and yellow on its wings. It also has chestnut flanks that separate it from Dark-backed Weavers.
  • Behavior: They are found most often in tree canopies. They feed on fruits, particularly figs, in groups of up to 200.
  • Habitat: Found in tall trees within forests and near lakes, as well as in areas of secondary growth and forest clearings.
  • Range: Known in Kenya only from an individual report in 2010 from Sio Port near the Ugandan border.
  • Nest: Weyns’s Weavers construct flask-shaped nests out of grass, twigs, and palm leaves. Males construct nests in groups together.

Clarke’s Weaver (Ploceus golandi)

  • Features: Kenya’s only endemic weaver species, Clarke’s Weavers males have pale yellow underparts contrasted with a dark head and breast. Wings are black with yellow edges. Eyes are dark.
  • Behavior: Breed by pools in suitable habitat. Usually found in flocks of up to 30 individuals, often feeding on insects, their primary diet.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in coastal forests, particularly prevalent in miombo (Brachystegia) woodland.
  • Range: These birds are endemic to coastal Kenya, particularly in the Arabuko-Sokoke and Dakatcha woodlands.
  • Nest: Nests were roughly woven with a low side entrance, positioned atop tall sedges growing in water.

Juba Weaver (Ploceus dichrocephalus)

  • Features: Juba Weavers are elegant birds, males looking similar to Golden-backed and Black-headed Weavers (below) but the black on the crown of Juba Weavers turns to a red-brown on the nape and cheeks. Eyes are a dark red-brown and the breast is chestnut before transitioning to a dark yellow belly and vent.
  • Behavior: Eats seeds, and probably insects. Thought to be polygynous.
  • Habitat: Found alongside and within riverine bush.
  • Range: Known in Kenya only from the Dawa River in the far northeast of the country.
  • Nest: The nest is oval-shaped, with hardly any entrance tunnel, crafted from grass and lined with finer grass. It hangs from the tip of a branch or from a single reed at the side.

Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus)

  • Features: Similar-looking to the Juba Weaver, the Black-headed Weaver is distinguished mostly by the fact that its black crown doesn’t extent to the bottom of its nape, rather having a yellow lower nape to form a clean collar. The hood also extends in a pointed fashion down the top of the breast. Eyes are brown.
  • Behavior: Black-headed Weavers form flocks outside of the breeding season, feeding on insects.
  • Habitat: They inhabit regions with tall grass near rivers or standing water, as well as reedbeds and papyrus. They may also forage in tree savannas in drier areas.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies P. m. dimidiatus are found mostly in the southwest in the region surrounding Lake Victoria.
  • Nest: The nests are onion-shaped, with the entrance located below and without a tunnel. They are woven tightly by the male using grass, while the female adds fine grass and sometimes feathers. Positioned between vertical stems, typically in elephant grass, reeds, or papyrus over water, they’re often suspended from pendulous twigs or even in maize fields. Generally, they are more than 2 meters above ground or water level. The male repairs any damage during construction, but once occupied, the female blocks holes with lining material.

Golden-backed Weaver (Ploceus jacksoni)

  • Features: A breeding male Golden-backed Weaver is very similar to the Black-headed Weaver but has deeper chestnut underparts, bright red eyes, and a black nape, not yellow. It’s mantle is also a more conspicuous shade of yellow.
  • Behavior: Golden-backed Weavers are thought to feed on insects and possibly seeds. They are colonial nesters, often nesting with other weaver species.
  • Habitat: Mainly inhabiting wetland regions such as swamps, ambatch, reeds, and papyrus, they’re also found along rivers and occasionally venture into acacia scrub and woodland, typically below 1800 meters in altitude.
  • Range: This species is best found in western Kenya but also has populations in the south, in the Tsavo and Amboseli ecosystems.
  • Nest: The nest is a compact oval structure with an entrance underneath and no tunnel. It’s crafted from strips of grass or palm leaves, lined with grass seedheads and occasionally feathers. Typically suspended over water in papyrus or reeds, occasionally found in trees, ambatch, or even maize fields. Interestingly, birds removed artificially added tunnels from fresh nests but left them untouched on occupied ones.

Chestnut Weaver (Ploceus rubiginosus)

  • Features: Chestnut Weaver males have a dark chestnut body and mantle/back with a black head, except the nape. Eyes are red and wings are black and white with chestnut edging. Females are more subdued, having fairly buffy plumage with a brown, streaked breast.
  • Behavior: These birds are known to be migratory and nomadic, as well as resident in some areas. Large colonies are often created after heavy rains. They feed on seeds and insects, like most weavers.
  • Habitat: Dry thornveld, typically found below 1500 meters.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies’ range in Kenya is extensive with the species being present in good years almost everywhere except the highlands and the coast.
  • Nest: The nest, resembling a retort shape with a short spout of approximately 6 cm (sometimes lacking), appears rough on the outside but is tightly woven by the male inside. The female contributes by lining it with grass seedheads, continuing to do so during incubation. Typically, it is suspended from the tip of a branch by a cord of grass stems, sometimes with several nests hanging one below the other, positioned above the ground in a large tree within open grassland. In Kenya, this is often a baobab. At one site in Kenya, these weavers took over and reconstructed nests of Speke’s Weavers (see above).

Yellow-mantled Weaver (Ploceus tricolor)

  • Features: Yellow-mantled Weavers are black-backed and chestnut on the underparts. The head is also black but they have a yellow collar at the top of the mantle. Eyes are red. Females look the same except their fronts are not chestnut, but black.
  • Behavior: These birds rarely venture to the ground or even the undergrowth level of forests, choosing instead to remain in the canopy where they feed on insects like grasshoppers, ants, and butterflies.
  • Habitat: The lowland forest, especially along rivers or close to swamps, along with secondary forest and old plantations, constitutes the habitat of choice for this species. They also inhabit undisturbed forest areas and occasionally small forest patches. They prefer nesting in undisturbed forest environments, away from human settlements.
  • Range: The eastern subspecies P. t. interscapularis are known only formerly from Kenya with past records coming from Kakamega Forest some sixty years ago.
  • Nest: The nest, shaped like a retort with a short and wide entrance tunnel, is roughly woven using rootlets, vine tendrils, and fibers. It is lined with soft plant material and typically suspended high above the ground, around 20 to 50 meters, often at the end of a thin branch.

Dark-backed Weaver (Ploceus bicolor)

  • Features: Dark-backed Weavers are smart-looking but fairly unspectacular birds (no offense, in case any birds are reading). Yellow underparts and black backs, wings, and head give this species a uniform look. Eyes are red.
  • Behavior: Their diet consists mostly of arthropods. They are often found in mixed species flocks, both with other weavers and other birds such as barbets, woodpeckers, and greenbuls.
  • Habitat: These birds inhabit forested regions with both evergreen and deciduous vegetation, which can include montane forest patches, riverine and gallery forests in open areas, secondary forest regrowth in cleared regions, as well as coffee plantations and dense woodland with baobab and other trees.
  • Range: Two subspecies occur in Kenya. P. b. mentalis can be found in the forests of western Kenya, while P. b. kersteni is found in coastal forest and inland along rivers, particularly the Tana River.
  • Nest: One member of the pair, often the male, primarily builds the nest, which has a retort shape with a tunnel underneath, typically less than 30 cm long. Crafted from sturdy materials like vine tendrils or grass, the nest appears weathered. It starts with a ring of dry and green material, followed by strips forming a bowl, lined with soft material like Usnea lichen. Suspended 2.5–15 m above the ground, commonly around 4.5–6 m, the nest hangs from a branch or creeper, often in thorny trees.

Brown-capped Weaver (Ploceus insignis)

  • Features: Brown-capped Weavers are distinguished by what they are named for – their brown caps. Besides the cap, these birds are bright yellow on the underparts and back with black wings and and black head (brown crown excluded, of course). Eyes are red. Females are quite similar but lack the brown cap, instead having an all black head.
  • Behavior: These weavers can be found active at any level of the forest. They tend to feed as individuals or pairs and in family groups of three or four.
  • Habitat: Found in tall montane forests, bamboo forests, secondary forests, gallery forests, and coffee plantations, this species thrives at altitudes of 1700–2800 m, occasionally as low as 850 m. They prefer areas with open canopies and dense understorey vegetation.
  • Range: In Kenya, Brown-capped Weavers are found in suitable habitat in western and central Kenya, as far east as Meru, with some records from Marsabit National Park perhaps indicating a wider distribution than presumed.
  • Nest: The nest, resembling a retort with a long spout, is crafted from tendrils of the convolvulus creeper. Positioned several meters above ground, it is typically affixed to the underside or tip of a branch, often situated above forest tracks or clearings.

Compact Weaver

Compact Weaver (Pachyphantes superciliosus)

  • Features: The only species in their genus, Pachyphantes, Compact Weavers have all yellow underparts and dark green backs and wings. Their tails are noticeably shorter than most weavers. They are distinguished also by their black face mask which goes just over the eyes. Males have a yellow-orange crown and females have a black strip on their crown.
  • Behavior: They forage in small flocks for fruit, seeds, and insects. This species is monogamous.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, it inhabits tall grasslands and grassy savannas, as well as thickets, scattered bushes, forest edges, clearings, and coffee plantations. Typically found below 1500 meters, in Kenya it thrives at altitudes ranging from 1000 to 1700 meters, particularly in regions with annual rainfall exceeding 1000 millimeters.
  • Range: In Kenya, Compact Weavers are known only from the southwest, near Lake Victoria.
  • Nest: The nest is spherical with a side entrance, standing 12 centimeters tall and intricately woven from fine strips torn from grass blades. It’s lined with down from Ipomoea and bulrush seeds, along with involucres from Phragmites reeds. Positioned 1.4 to 2.8 meters above ground, it’s attached to vertical grass stems, often with the tops of supporting grasses stripped of seeds and sometimes nipped off. Its construction bears a resemblance to the peculiar nest of Grosbeak Weavers (see below).

Queleas

Cardinal Quelea (Quelea cardinalis)

  • Features: During the breeding season, the male displays a vivid red head extending down to the throat and sometimes onto the breast. Its nape and upperparts exhibit a light brown hue with dark streaks on the central feathers, while the rump appears light brown with fewer streaks. The upperwing and tail are dark brown, with primaries having narrow yellow margins. Its belly and undertail-coverts are white, while the flanks and thighs show a tawny coloration. The eyes are brown, the bill is black, and its legs are brown.
  • Behavior: Flocks appear in multitudes after rains but sometimes will move on before breeding. They feed primarily on grass seeds.
  • Habitat: Found typically in areas with dense grass and wooded grassland, often in arid regions. Documented at elevations ranging from 400 to 3000 meters, with sightings in Kenya typically occurring between 800 and 2000 meters, occasionally reaching up to 3000 meters in mountainous regions.
  • Range: In Kenya, Cardinal Queleas are found throughout much of the country, excluding the hottest, driest areas in the north, the east, and by the coast.
  • Nest: Constructed primarily by the male, the nest is often finished within a day. It takes the form of a densely woven grass dome with a sizable side entrance and lacks a porch. Lined with finer grass, it is typically positioned between 30 centimeters to 1.5 meters above ground, nestled among vertical stems of grass or other vegetation.

Red-headed Quelea (Quelea erythrops)

  • Features: Larger than Cardinal Queleas, Red-headed Queleas have a longer bill and the entire head is red, including the nape. The red is a bit darker than that of the Cardinal Quelea. Underparts are similar, sometimes appearing whiter than Cardinal Quelea’s.
  • Behavior: These birds are migratory in some regions and seem to be non-breeding visitors in Kenya.
  • Habitat: Found predominantly in tall grasslands, often adjacent to water sources, this bird is also present in agricultural regions, including rice fields. In Kenya, they are typically observed below 1400 meters in regions with higher precipitation.
  • Range: In Kenya, Red-headed Queleas are known from the western part of the country as well as at the coast, particularly around Malindi.
  • Nest: Constructed by the male, the nest is a tightly woven dome featuring a sizable side entrance, occasionally accompanied by a porch above the opening. Crafted from grass strips, it is typically suspended about 1.5 meters above the ground or over water, nestled between grass or reed stems.

Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea)

  • Features: Lacking the red head of the other quelea species, Red-billed Queleas are buffy, light brown all over, with black streaked wings. Breeding males have a black mask, bright red bill and red rings around their dark eyes.
  • Behavior: Red-billed Queleas are well-known to breed, roost, and travel in massive numbers. Colonies may have millions of nests, with as many as 6,000 in a single tree! They are sometimes called “Africa’s feathered locust” due to the damage that these massive groups, sometimes reaching over a billion individuals, can do to crops.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in semi-arid environments such as dry thornveld and bushed grassland, with occasional sightings in cultivated areas. It sporadically inhabits both very dry and wet regions but is generally absent from forested areas. Its habitat ranges from lowlands to hills, with rare sightings up to 3000 meters, primarily concentrated between 500 and 1500 meters in East Africa and mostly below 1000 meters in the south.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies Q. q. aethiopica can be found essentially throughout the entire country in the right season.
  • Nest: Constructed by the male over a span of 2 to 3 days, the nest is roughly woven into a small oval ball using fresh green grass strips. It features a side entrance located under a small porch and is typically positioned between 1 to 6 meters above ground, often around 2 meters high, in thorn trees, occasionally in reeds or sugar cane. Old nests might be repurposed for breeding by the Cut-throat Finch and Zebra Waxbill.

Bishops

Northern Red Bishop (Euplectes franciscanus)

  • Features: Breeding male Northern Red Bishops have red napes, backs and upper wings, black primaries and underparts and a black crown. Their cheeks are also black. Eyes are black.
  • Behavior: They feed on grass seeds and insects, forming large flocks in the non-breeding season. The male showcases a display-flight with fluffed body plumage, known as the “bumble-flight,” over his territory. If the female lands, he proceeds with a perched courtship.
  • Habitat: Found in tall open or bushy grasslands, as well as in tall crops and overgrown margins of cultivated areas, they particularly prefer seasonally flooded areas for nesting. Nests can also be found within cultivated crops.
  • Range: In Kenya, Northern Red Bishops are very local, particularly around Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. They have also been recorded in the far northeast of the country.
  • Nest: Constructed by the male, the nest is a spherical structure featuring a side entrance, crafted from coarse grass strips. The female adds a lining of grass flowerheads, which protrude from the entrance. Positioned between 1 to 2 meters above the ground, it is supported by vertical grass or weed stems, or occasionally found in cultivated crops. In rare cases, it may be elevated some meters above the ground in bamboo, bushes, or trees. Interestingly, in captivity, females have been observed building their own nests, ignoring those constructed by males.

Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix)

  • Features: Southern Red Bishops are very similar to their northern counterparts (above) but the red on the nape extends about halfway up the crown on this species. Also, the back is a bit more brown that the Northern Red Bishop’s.
  • Behavior: They eat seeds and arthropods. In the non-breeding season, this species can be found in mixed flocks with birds such as queleas. During courtship, males exhibit fluffed-out body feathers and perform a “bumble-flight” approach towards females within their territory. This is followed by perched courtship, where they swivel around and vocalize.
  • Habitat: Found in tall grassland and cultivated regions within open landscapes, typically in proximity to water sources.
  • Range: In Kenya, this species is most common in the southern parts of the country.
  • Nest: The male constructs the nest, often taking 2-3 days, starting with a cross-bridge between two vertical supports. It’s oval with a side entrance under a porch, tightly woven from thin reed or grass strips. The female adds a lining of plant down and grass seedheads, usually continuing during incubation. Typically, it’s situated in water within reeds, sedges, or bulrushes.

Zanzibar Red Bishop (Euplectes nigroventris)

  • Features: The Zanzibar Red Bishop is the smallest of the red bishop species. Unlike, the two species above, Zanzibar Red Bishops show all black underparts and an entirely red crown.
  • Behavior: The male engages in brief flights with puffed plumage (known as “bumble-flights”) towards the female. Upon landing, he performs a perched courtship display, repeatedly turning to showcase both his upperparts and underparts.
  • Habitat: Found in coastal grasslands and cultivated regions, typically below 1000 meters in altitude.
  • Range: In Kenya, these birds range all along the coast, with some individuals sometimes venturing as far inland as Tsavo.
  • Nest: The nest, constructed by the male, is an oval structure with a side entrance, crafted from grass strips. The female adds a lining of grass seedheads, often Panicum maximum, extending to form a porch over the entrance. Positioned at 1–1.5 meters above ground, it’s typically nestled within grass, reeds, or bushes.

Black-winged Red Bishop (Euplectes hordeaceus)

  • Features: Black-winged Red Bishops are stockier than the other red bishops. They have big rounded black wings and tail. The red extends all the way across the crown and around the throat and upper breast.
  • Behavior: During display, the male bird perches prominently within its territory, with its feathers puffed out, swiveling while emitting constant calls. It engages in short, fluffed flights and slow “bumble-flights” when approaching a female that has landed in its territory. Near the female, the male may flap its wings slowly in front of its breast or hold them quivering above its back.
  • Habitat: Frequenting tall grasslands, savannas, cultivated areas, and forest clearings, this bird inhabits regions from coastal areas up to 2000 meters. It’s commonly spotted in wetter locales compared to other bishops with red plumage.
  • Range: This species is found in both western Kenya and in the southeast, along the coast and inland as far as Oloitoktok.
  • Nest: The nest, constructed by the male, is oval with a large side entrance, woven from strips of grass. It is supported 0·8-3·0 meters above ground by vertical stems of tall grass or other vegetation. The nest is then lined by the female with fine grass.

Black Bishop (Euplectes gierowii)

  • Features: Two subspecies occur in Kenya, with slight visual differences. E. g. ansorgei looks very similar to the Northern Red Bishop but has a yellow mantle and black throat. The red band extends around, but below the throat, covering the upper breast. E. g. friederichseni doesn’t show as much yellow on the mantle but has a narrow red breast band.
  • Behavior: Polygynous, with males occupying territories containing three or four nests. Diet consists of seeds and insects.
  • Habitat: Found in tall grassland, both in swampy and drier bushy regions, as well as in scrub and sugar cane areas. In Kenya, typically observed at altitudes ranging from 700 to 1600 meters, particularly in regions with over 1000 mm of annual rainfall.
  • Range: In western Kenya, you can find E. g. ansorgei and look for E. g. friederichseni in the south.
  • Nest: The nest is oval-shaped, with a large entrance situated high on one side, constructed from coarse grass and lined with grass seedheads.

Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer)

  • Features: Yellow-crowned Bishop breeding males are small, stocky, short-tailed bishops. Yellow and black, the bishops have a bright yellow crown, back, tail, and upper breast and flanks. The rest of the body is black.
  • Behavior: Their diet consists mostly of seeds. Male birds are territorial within small colonies, engaging in fluffed flights towards both rivals and females entering the territory.
  • Habitat: Found in open grassy valleys, typically at low elevations. Breeds in highly moist environments like swamps or seasonally flooded habitats, often closely linked with wet areas. After heavy rains is a good time to look out for them in grasslands.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies E. a. taha is found in suitable habitat through much of the western half of the country, from Tsavo north to Nairobi and Nakuru and west to near Kisumu.
  • Nest: The nest is an oval ball with a side entrance near the top, constructed by the male using thin grass strips. The female then lines it with fine grasses, often with seedheads attached and protruding from the entrance. Typically, it’s attached to vertical stalks, usually less than 1 meter above ground or water, hidden in tufts of grass or in bushes, rushes, and sedges, often in flooded or waterlogged areas.

Fire-fronted Bishop (Euplectes diadematus)

  • Features: Fire-fronted Bishops are largely black and yellow bishops but with the distinguishing red forecrown. The mantle is mottled yellow and black and the rump and vent are yellow. The entire front is black, as well as the head.
  • Behavior: Likely polygynous, with territories occupied by solitary nesters or colonies of up to twelve males. During perched displays, males bob up and down, fluffing their plumage and flicking their wings.
  • Habitat: Found in open grassland and cultivated regions below 1000 meters, as well as in bushy coastal dunes, rice fields, and temporarily flooded areas.
  • Range: Fire-fronted Bishops are nearly endemic to East Africa, with some populations reaching Somalia and possibly eastern Ethiopia. In Kenya, they are most common in the southeast, all the way to the coast, with populations also present in Meru and Shaba National Parks.
  • Nest: The nest is a rounded structure with an entrance near the top, sheltered by a small porch. It’s loosely woven from grass stems and leaf blades, usually attached within half a meter of the ground to grass or herbs in a grass clump. The female may help build it and continues to line it with softer grass during incubation.

Yellow Bishop (Euplectes capensis)

  • Features: Larger than Yellow-crowned Bishop, Yellow Bishops are mostly black. They have yellow shoulder patches and rumps.
  • Behavior: During the “bumble-flight” display to females entering its territory, the male, with its puffed-up yellow rump feathers and tail lowered, flies in a zigzag pattern. During this flight, bursts of song alternate with a rattling sound made by its wings. In perched courtship, the male sways from side to side, leaning back with all its feathers ruffled, revealing a white strip on its lower breast where the bases of the feathers are exposed.
  • Habitat: In northern regions, primarily found in montane grasslands, typically at elevations ranging from 1400 to 2300 meters in East Africa.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies E. c. crassirostris is particularly common in central. Populations also extend south and west from the highlands.
  • Nest: The nest, shaped like a dome with a side entrance, is woven by the male using grass strips, sometimes incorporating living grass into the structure. The female lines it with grass seedheads, which might extend from the entrance, forming a porch. Typically, it’s placed about a meter above the ground in grass or a small shrub, with the male often trimming the tops of herbs around the nest.

Widowbirds

White-winged Widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus)

  • Features: In Kenya, the subspecies E. a. eques is mostly black with a heavy, silver bill. Wing shoulders are red, as opposed to the yellow patches seen on the nominate subspecies. The primary and secondary coverts are white, as are the primary edges.
  • Behavior: This species is polygynous, with each male often having up to four females in its territory. Males defend their area against other males of the same species and occasionally against other species within the genus. During courtship, the male sings from a high perch, standing erect with its tail fanned out. In flight displays, the tail is spread, and its conspicuous epaulets are visible.
  • Habitat: Found in tall grasslands amidst relatively dry environments, typically below 2000 meters. They also inhabit areas with overgrown weeds and grass along the edges of cultivated land.
  • Range: E. a. eques is found in western Kenya, south and east to Tsavo and Nanyuki/Meru.
  • Nest: The nest is oval-shaped with a sizable side entrance and supported by vertical grass stems. The male constructs the framework using dry and partially green grass, lining it with a dense layer of finer dry grass, such as Sporobolus. This lining may extend outward to form a porch. Typically, the nest is positioned just a meter or two above the ground.

Yellow-mantled Widowbird (Euplectes macroura)

  • Features: Two subspecies occur in Kenya. The nominate group is mostly black with medium-sized yellow shoulder patches and a yellow mantle. E. m. macroura lacks the yellow mantle and has a slightly smaller yellow shoulder patch.
  • Behavior: This species practices polygyny, with each male having up to five females. They are territorial, but in densely populated areas, they may exhibit almost colonial behavior. In Kenya, their territories average around 1 hectare in size. During courtship, males engage in pursuit flights of females, with their tails depressed. They also perform jerky wing movements accompanied by flicks of the spread tail. Interestingly, field observations suggest that tail length manipulation affects territory defense but not male attractiveness to females.
  • Habitat: It inhabits moist grasslands, marshes with trees and scrub. Sightings have been recorded between 1000 and 1800 meters in Kenya, particularly in regions with high rainfall exceeding 1000 millimeters per year. For roosting, it prefers reeds or papyrus in swamps, as well as thickets.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is found in western Kenya and E. m. macroura has a range also in western but souther of the nominate subspecies’ range.
  • Nest: The nest is a sizable oval construction with a side entrance, constructed mainly by the male. Interestingly, the number of nest frames produced by the male is a significant predictor of its mating success. Living grass blades are often incorporated into the framework. During incubation, the female contributes by adding a lining of dry grass. Typically, the nest is positioned half a meter above the ground in grass that is less than 1 meter tall, commonly in damp or waterlogged areas.

Red-cowled Widowbird (Euplectes laticauda)

  • Features: Formerly considered conspecific with Red-collared Widowbirds (see below), this species has been split due to the different plumage. All black with a red collar that extends around the sides of the neck, up the nape and to the crown.
  • Behavior: Male birds engage in display flights characterized by gliding downhill, with their tails spread and central feathers curved downward.
  • Habitat: The Red-cowled Widowbird inhabits highland areas, open grasslands, bushy regions, and woodland dominated by Hyparrhenia savannah. It is also found in dense scrubland, herbaceous growth, and agricultural land.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies E. l. suahelicus can be found in the central highlands, from Nairobi to Kitale, in the right habitat.
  • Nest: The species constructs its nest in an oval shape, approximately 90 mm tall and 65 mm wide, using fine wiry grass woven onto bent grass stems to form a living grass dome above. Lining, typically of grass heads stripped of seeds, is added only after the first egg is laid, sometimes protruding to create a porch over the side entrance. Nest placement is often less than 1 m above ground. Unlike most Ploceid species, the female is usually responsible for most, if not all, of the construction, and continues to add lining during the incubation period.

Red-collared Widowbird (Euplectes ardens)

  • Features: Now split from the Red-cowled Widowbird, the Red-collared Widowbird looks similar but has red only on the front collar, being all black otherwise.
  • Behavior: The Red-collared Widowbird practices polygyny, with males typically having two or three mates. They hold large territories containing up to more than 20 nests, often on sloping hillsides. During display flights, males glide downhill with spread tails and curved central feathers. While larger territories are associated with males sporting larger red collars, female mate choice primarily depends on male tail length.
  • Habitat: The Red-collared Widowbird inhabits diverse environments, often located away from water sources. These habitats include open or bushed grasslands, areas with dense vegetation, scrub, cultivated lands, and clearings within forested areas, typically found on sparsely treed slopes.
  • Range: This species is a rare sighting in Kenya, with sparse records from the southeast of the country.
  • Nest: The nest, an oval structure with a side entrance, is crafted by the male using fine wiry grass woven onto grass stems. Green blades of grass are bent over to form a living dome above. The female lines it with grass heads stripped of seeds, possibly projecting to create a porch over the entrance (one nest had 518 seed heads). Typically positioned a couple meters above the ground in tall elephant grass, it can be lower elsewhere. The female often leads construction and adds lining throughout incubation.

Fan-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes axillaris)

  • Features: Fan-tailed widowbirds are mostly black, short-tailed widowbirds with red-orange shoulders. The bill is silver-white. Confusingly, the tail is only fan-shaped in mating displays.
  • Behavior: The male conducts a slow, undulating flight across his territory, often preceding perched courtship or in response to intruders. The color of the epaulets seems crucial in interactions between males, while tail length appears significant in attracting females; males with artificially lengthened tails were reportedly favored as mates.
  • Habitat: Found primarily in tall grassland, often in damp or swampy locales, including reeds and papyrus. Also inhabits drier grasslands with shrubs and cultivated areas, such as sugar cane fields. Typically observed below 1500 m, occasionally reaching altitudes exceeding 2000 m in East Africa.
  • Range: E. a. phoeniceus is common particularly in western and southwestern Kenya, while E. a. zanzibaricus can be found occasionally along the coast.
  • Nest: The nest is an oval structure woven from thin grass strips, featuring a side entrance and attached to vertical stems of grass or other vegetation. Initially, the male constructs a framework of long grass strands within a living grass bower, and the female subsequently adds a dense lining of grass seedheads, which may protrude from the entrance like a porch. Typically positioned 60–80 cm above the ground, it may sometimes be as close as 10 cm from the ground in shorter grass tufts.

Marsh Widowbird (Euplectes hartlaubi)

  • Features: Marsh Widowbirds are similar-looking to Fan-tailed Widowbirds, but have longer tails and are a good bit larger. They also have red-orange shoulder patches, or epaulets, but not as deep red as the Fan-tailed Widowbird.
  • Behavior: They feed primarily on seeds, insects, and small fruit. Males defend territory from the same species as well as birds of other species.
  • Habitat: The Marsh Widowbird inhabits swampy grasslands and adjacent cultivated areas – marshes. It occasionally ventures over deeper water among reeds, where it may perch on floating lily leaves or other masses of vegetation. Typically found at altitudes ranging from 1100 to 1800 meters in East Africa.
  • Range: The subspecies E. h. humeralis is found in suitable habitat only in western Kenya, between Kisumu and Kitale.
  • Nest: The nest of the Marsh Widowbird is spherical, featuring a side entrance. It’s crafted from delicate grass stems, often incorporating living grass that forms a canopy over the nest. Initially constructed by the male, the female contributes by lining it with dry grass, a process that continues even after the first eggs are laid. Typically situated close to the ground, usually within 20 centimeters, in wet areas with dense grass.

Long-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes progne)

  • Features: Breeding males are mostly black with red- and cream-coloured shoulders patches. What stands out is the remarkably long tail these birds take on during breeding seasons.
  • Behavior: The male Long-tailed Widowbird establishes his territory, typically ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 hectares, by vocalizing from favored perches, often positioned less than a meter above the ground. He engages in direct pursuit flights to ward off intruders, with his tail streaming straight behind him. Upon a female’s entry into his territory, he performs a distinctive flight display with a “keeled” tail and laborious wingbeats, showcasing his conspicuous epaulets. Additionally, he exhibits a perched display characterized by bobbing movements accompanied by a sizzling song. Experimental studies on male tail length manipulation indicate that females visit multiple territories successively and tend to prefer males with longer tails, which are likely the oldest individuals.
  • Habitat: The Long-tailed Widowbird inhabits grasslands, often favoring areas with short grass. These habitats aren’t necessarily damp or marshy and are typically found at elevations ranging from 1800 to 2800 meters in Kenya.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies E. p. delamerei is found only locally in the central highlands, above 1800 meters.
  • Nest: The female constructs the nest alone, weaving a domed structure with a side entrance from fine grass and living material. Lined with flowering grass-heads, the nest is typically less than 50 cm above the ground within the male’s territory. Sometimes, the male adds simple nest rings, and captive males have been observed building complete nests.

Jackson’s Widowbird (Euplectes jacksoni)

  • Features: Jackson’s Widowbird breeding males are all black with a silver bill, much like Long-tailed Widowbirds. But they have brown shoulders and wings (also with some black) and a long (but shorter than Long-tailed Widowbird’s) tail.
  • Behavior: Males exhibit a fascinating display at a lek, characterized by dancing on separate circles of flattened grass surrounding a central tuft, which they shape and maintain. Each male may possess up to three dancing rings. During the display, males jump up to 1 meter above the ground, with their head thrown back, neck feathers ruffled, and tail arched forwards, except for the downward-hanging outer rectrices. Females visit the lek, and if one lands on a ring, a ground-based display focusing on the central tuft ensues. The male erects crown and nape feathers as an aggressive signal to other males.
  • Habitat: Grassy highlands between 1500 and 3000 meters above sea level.
  • Range: They are found in the highlands of central and western Kenya.
  • Nest: The nest, solely constructed by the female, is a domed structure woven from grass with a side entrance. Living grass is bent over it, creating a bower, while grass seedheads line the interior. It is situated within 10 cm of the ground within a tuft of grass about half a meter tall.

Grosbeak Weaver

Grosbeak Weaver (Amblyospiza albifrons)

  • Features: Also known as the Thick-billed Weaver, this species is a big, thickset weaver with a very thick bill. Plumage is dark brown to black with a white forecrown and a small white patch on the wing.
  • Behavior: The Red-collared Widowbird is polygynous, with males often having up to six females, with three nesting simultaneously on their territory. While some areas show single nests and apparently monogamous pairs in low-density regions, small colonies are also common, with one South African colony containing over 100 nests. Males defend small territories around their nests and display near the nest with slow, flapping flight. When a female approaches, the perched male rotates its wings forwards, displaying white patches, jerks its tail up and down, and sings.
  • Habitat: Typically found near water and wooded regions, this species breeds in wetlands. During the non-breeding season, it forages along the peripheries of evergreen forests and within the forest canopy, often at a distance from water sources. Communal roosting occurs in tall grass or reedbeds during the non-breeding season.
  • Range: Three subspecies occur in Kenya. A. a. melanota is known from western Kenya, A. a. unicolor from the coast, and A. a. montana from the country’s central highlands.
  • Nest: The nest is oval-shaped with a sizable side entrance, crafted by the male using finely shredded strips torn from grass, palms, or bulrushes. Construction begins with a bridge between vertical supports, followed by the formation of a cup below the bridge, which is then roofed over in the final phase. Once the nest is occupied, the entrance is closed to a small round opening, and the female lines the cup with a wad of grass. It’s typically attached 1–3 meters above ground or water to bulrushes, papyrus, or reeds and sedges, usually positioned over water.

Kenya Birding Resources

Citizen science and list-keeping projects used in Kenya include include eBird and Birdlasser. Both can be used to keep track of the birds you see, as well as contributing to scientific data collection that goes into the conservation of our birds.

Field Guides:

  • Birds of East Africa – Terry Stevenson’s and John Fanshawe’s great book is an extensive field guide covering 1,388 bird species in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, featuring 287 new color plates and concise species accounts. With detailed illustrations and range maps, it offers comprehensive information on identification, status, habits, and more, making it an essential resource for bird enthusiasts in the region. It was recently updated and the newest edition released in 2020.
  • Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania – Zimmerman’s, Turner’s, and Pearson’s guide showcases 124 color plates capturing all 1,114 bird species, including variations by subspecies, age, and sex, complemented by over 800 range maps and concise text covering identification, voice, and distribution. Another good option for the region, but not as recently updated.
  • Birds of Africa South of the Sahara – Written by Peter Ryan and Ian Sinclair, this guide offers unparalleled coverage of African birds in one book, detailing every bird found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert, including Socotra, Pemba, and Gulf of Guinea islands. Given its wider range of countries covered, it is not as compact and not as convenient for use in the field, but still a useful guide to have in your collection.

Phone apps:

  • eBird mobile – Offers a convenient way to record and submit bird sightings anytime, anywhere, even without internet access. Just log your birding location and time, then enter the species you observe. It can even calculate your distance traveled and time spent birding, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the birds! Free.
  • Birdlasser – Similar to eBird in function but more specific to Africa. Your records in Birdlasser can be directly contributed to the Kenya Bird Map project which aims to map and update the current distribution of Kenya’s birds and can be used in conjunction with the broader Africa Bird Map. Free.
  • Merlin by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – The Merlin Bird ID app helps users identify birds by asking questions about their appearance and behavior, then suggests potential matches along with images and sounds. Users can also explore bird species, learn about their habits, and contribute observations to eBird. It should be noted, however, that the sound ID function is not particularly useful in Kenya yet, due to the lack of recordings. Free.
  • eGuide to Birds of East Africa – The eGuide to Birds of East Africa serves as a digital companion to Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe’s renowned field guide, Birds of East Africa (see above), ideal for birdwatchers exploring Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Packed with special features, this app enriches your birding adventures in the region. It requires a one-time payment of about $38 USD, or 5,000 Kenyan shillings.
  • Birds of Africa – Designed for bird enthusiasts, this interactive app offers a comprehensive resource on African avifauna. With a rich array of photos, sounds, text, and maps, it facilitates bird identification and fosters a deeper appreciation for these species while supporting their conservation efforts. Free.

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Conclusion

The weavers in Kenya are fascinating creatures that contribute to the rich biodiversity of the region. Their unique nest-building abilities and diverse habitats make them a vital part of Kenya’s natural heritage. By understanding and conserving these birds and their habitats, we can ensure their continued presence for future generations to enjoy. Let’s work together to protect the weavers of Kenya and preserve the beauty of our natural world.

Credits:

Birds of the World – https://birdsoftheworld.org/

Carnaby, T. (2010). Beat About the Bush: Birds. Jacana.

Stevenson, T., Fanshawe, J., Gale, J., & Small, B. E. (2020). Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi (2nd ed.). Princeton University Press.