Family Weavers (Ploceidae)

Least Concern

Fan-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes axillaris)


French: Euplecte à épaules orangées German: Stummelweber Spanish: Obispo de abanico

Vidua axillaris

A. Smith

, 1838,

Eastern Cape, South Africa


Hybridizes with E. macroura and E. capensis in captivity. Proposed races batesi (described from upper R Niger around Mali–Niger border) and quanzae (from W Angola) treated as synonyms of bocagei. Five subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • E. a. bocagei (Sharpe, 1871) – S & E Mali, SW Niger, NE Nigeria, SW Chad, W & N Cameroon, N Central African Republic, E Congo, W & S DRCongo, Angola, Zambia (except NE), NE Namibia (Caprivi Strip), N Botswana (Okavango region) and extreme NW Zimbabwe (R Zambezi W of Victoria Falls).
  • E. a. phoeniceus (Heuglin, 1862) – SE Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, E DRCongo, Rwanda, Burundi, inland Kenya and Tanzania, S to NE Zambia and N Malawi.
  • E. a. traversii (Salvadori, 1888) – highlands of W & S Ethiopia.
  • E. a. zanzibaricus (Shelley, 1881) – S Somalia S along coast, including Zanzibar and Pemba I, to S Tanzania.
  • E. a. axillaris (A. Smith, 1838) – lowlands of Malawi (except N), C & S Mozambique, Swaziland and E South Africa.
  • Descriptive notes

    15 cm; male 26–32 g, female 20–25 g. Typical widowbird with medium-length tail. Male nominate race breeding is black except for buff-edged tertials, secondaries... read more


    Song, from perch or in flight, a high-pitched, scratchy series of notes combined with sizzling... read more


    Tall grassland, often in moist or swampy areas, even reeds and papyrus (Cyperus papyrus);... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet mainly grass seeds, such as those of Setaria, Digitaria, Paspalum, Panicum, Polygonum... read more


    Breeds Sept–Oct in W Africa, Aug in Sudan, Sept–Oct in Ethiopia and Aug–Oct in Somalia; in all months except Jan,... read more


    Mainly resident, with local movements in non-breeding season. Greatest distance moved by a ringed... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Widespread, and locally abundant. Estimated population in C & S Mozambique greater than 60,000 individuals.

    Recommended citation

    Craig, A. (2020). Fan-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes axillaris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 27 February 2020).