Mountain Marsh Widowbird Euplectes psammocromius

Weaver species list / RELATED SPECIES: Fan-tailed Widowbird / Jackson’s Widowbird / Long-tailed Widowbird / Marsh Widowbird / Mountain Marsh Widowbird / White-winged Widowbird / Yellow Bishop / Yellow-mantled Widowbird

IUCN: Least concern Discovery: 100

Categories: long tail


Mountain Marsh Widowbird, figure from Reichenow (1902)
Mountain Marsh Widowbird
Mountain Marsh Widowbird type

Mountain Marsh Widowbird distribution, type locality circled



The Mountain Marsh Widowbird was formally described by Anton Reichenow, a German ornithologist and herpetologist.The Mountain Marsh Widowbird was collected by Friedrich Fulleborn, a Prussian physician.

Fulleborn studied medicine and natural sciences in Berlin. From 1896 onward, he was a military physician assigned to the Schutztruppe in German East Africa (Tanzania). In 1898-1900 he participated in the Nyassa- and Kingagebirgs Expedition to southern Tanzania, where he conducted anthropological and ethnographic research. He also collected bird specimens, which he sent to Berlin. In 1899 he collected birds in the region north of Lake Malawi (but in Tanzania), a region not explored ornithologically until then. Fulleborn found the type of the Mountain Marsh Widowbird at Tandala in Ukinga, Tanzania.

The first illustration of the Mountain Marsh Widowbird was of an adult male, published by Reichenow (1902). The next illustrations were published much later, from the 1980s onwards.

Scientific citation

Penthetria psammocromia Reichenow 1900b, Orn. Monatsb. 8 p.39, Tandala in Ukinga, Tukuyu district, south-western Tanganyika.

Meaning of names

psammocromius, Greek: Psammos, sand; khroma, complexion or colour; reference to its yellow shoulder patch.

First English name

Fulleborn’s Marsh Whydah (Shelley 1905b).

Alternate names

Buff-shouldered Widowbird, Montane Marsh Widowbird, Montane Widowbird, Mountain Marsh Whydah, Nyasa Marsh-Whydah.


Friedrich Fulleborn.

Date collected

2 May 1899.

Locality collected

Tandala in Ukinga, Tanzania.

Type specimens

The type is in the Berlin Museum (ZMB_2000.8146).

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday 2, a weekly series about the discovery of each weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [217] – Discovery [100]: Mountain Marsh Widowbird on 2016-08-10

1. Basic biology

Mountain Marsh Widowbird
Mountain Marsh Widowbird male, figure courtesy of Stuart Webb
Mountain Marsh Widowbird
Mountain Marsh Widowbird male, figure from wikipedia

Identification. The Mountain Marsh Widowbird breeding male is black with a distinctive bright yellow and buff shoulder patch, and long thin tail, which in display flight looks like several tails. It is restricted to highlands, and does not overlap with the similar [Hartlaub’s] Marsh WidowbirdThe non-breeding male is dull coloured but retains the shoulder patches. The female and sub-adult are much larger and more heavily streaked below than other widowbirds in their range.

Distribution. The Mountain Marsh Widowbird is restricted to the Nyika Plateau in Zambia and Malawi, and to the highlands of SW Tanzania to Njombe and Iringa, where it is locally common (see map above, based on Birds of Africa). It was formerly treated as a race of the Marsh Widowbird, but its habitat, geographic isolation, and distinct voices separates it as a species. Mountain Marsh Widowbird map

Habitat. The Mountain Marsh Widowbird inhabits short, thick, montane grassland usually near streams. It is found in pairs or small groups, but forms large flocks in the non-breeding season.

Food. The Mountain Marsh Widowbird feeds on grass seeds and insects.

Mountain Marsh Widowbird
Nyika Plateau, typical breeding habitat for Mountain Marsh Widowbirds, figure from wikipedia

Breeding. The Mountain Marsh Widowbird is territorial and is probably polygynous. The male displays in a slow flight over grasslands, with his long tail conspicuous. The nest is simialr to that of other widowbirds in being a dome-shaped structure of fine grass, and loosely woven with a side entrance. The nest is built with living grass as part of the nest.

The clutch size is 2 eggs, which are pale olive-green, and densely marked with very fine brown spots and streaks. Nothing else is known about breeding.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [102]: Mountain Marsh Widowbird on 2014-05-28

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Presumed polygynous

Breeding season
May in Tanzania, Jan in Zambia md Oct-Nov in Malawi

Nest site
incorporating living grass, often within 20 cm of ground

Nest building
No information

Colony size
No information

Clutch size
2 eggs

Egg colour
pale olive-green, densely marked with very fine brown spots and streaks

Egg size
No information

No information

Chicks and nestling period
No information

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

No records yet – be the first to submit a PHOWN record!