Compact Weaver Pachyphantes superciliosus

Weaver species list / RELATED SPECIES: Compact Weaver / Cardinal Quelea / Red-billed Quelea / Red-headed Quelea

IUCN: Least concern Discovery: 070

Categories: Brachycope & Pachyphantes


Compact Weaver non-breeding adult & female, figure from Sharpe (1890)


Compact Weaver distribution, type locality circled



The Compact Weaver was formally described by George Ernest Shelley, an English geologist and ornithologist.Shelley had 2 specimens of the Compact Weaver. An adult female specimen was donated to Sharpe’s collection by entomologist William Wilson Saunders, and this specimen is now in the British Museum. The second specimen was a non-breeding bird collected in Accra, by Shelley who visited Ghana from mid January to March 1872 to collect birds.

The first illustration of the Compact Weaver was published in Sharpe (1890) of the two type specimens, a non-breeding adult and a female. The next illustration relating to this species was a photo of its nest published in Chapin (1917). The breeding male was first illustrated by Bannerman (1949).

Scientific citation

Hyphantornis superciliosus Shelley 1873, Ibis, p.140 Accra, Gold Coast.

Meaning of names

superciliosus, Latin: superciliosus, eyebrowed (refers to eyebrow of breeding female).

First English name

Buff-browed Weaver-bird (Layard 1884).

Alternate names

Omo River Compact Weaver. (Origin of name “Compact Weaver”, see below).


W Wilson Saunders and George Ernest Shelley.

Date collected

March 1872.

Locality collected

Accra, Ghana.

Type specimens

There is a type specimen in the British Museum (BM 1877.7.11.227).

Origin of name “Compact Weaver” (8 Feb 2016)

The first English name given to this species was Buff-browed Weaver-bird (see above). The next name given was Compact Weaver by Shelley (1905), without hinting as to the reason for the name.The genus gives the most likely clue. Pachyphantes was introduced by Shelley (1896), without description, and this name means: (Greek) pakhus, thick; huphantes, a weaver. So when Shelly gave English names to African birds in 1905, he must have translated Pachyphantes to thick weaver, or rather Compact Weaver.

The nest of this species was not known to Shelley in 1905, so the English name would not have referred to the “compact”-like nest of this bird.


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 [187] – Discovery [70]: Compact Weaver on 2016-01-13

1. Basic biology

Compact Weaver
Compact Weaver male & non-breeding adult,
figure from Bannerman (1949)

Identification. The Compact Weaver is in a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), namely Pachyphantes, this name meaning “thick, weaver”, referring to its heavy bill. Its position in the weaver family is uncertain but appears to be most closely related to the Thick-billed Weaver.The Compact Weaver is stocky and short-tailed, with a heavy bill. The male has a yellow crown (figure above left) and its dark green upperparts distinguish it from other ‘masked’ weavers. The female has the top of the head dark (figure above right), separated from the mask by a broad yellow stripe.

Male moulting into breeding plumage

Non-breeding adults are brownish. A dull coloured female moulting into bright plumage is unique in the Ploceidae family.

Distribution. The Compact Weaver is found in widely disjoint populations across West Africa from Senegal as far east as Ethiopia and western Kenya, and south to northern Angola (with one record from Zambia). It has no subspecies.

Habitat. The Compact Weaver occurs singly, in pairs, or in small groups. It is found in grassland or grassy savanna while breeding, and more wooded areas the rest of the year. It also occurs in thickets, scattered bush, forest edges, forest clearings, and coffee plantations.

Compact Weaver
Compact Weaver nest, figure from Chapin (1917)

Food. The Compact Weaver feeds on grass seeds and arthropods. The following have been recorded: insects, spiders, caterpillars, seeds and berries. In Ivory Coast, its diet was estimated at roughly 90% seeds and 10% arthropods.

Male feeding on grass seeds

Female possibly feeding on nectar


Breeding. The Compact Weaver is monogamous. Its nest is distinctive, with a side entrance, being similar to that of the Thick-billed Weaver. The nest is attached to tall grass stems. This species is not generally colonial and pairs occupy a territory with one nest, but sometimes the male builds a second roosting nest nearby. The male probably narrows the entrance of breeding nests but little has been published about nest building in this species.

3-4 eggs are laid. The eggs are plain blue-grey, or they are white, grey or pale bluish-green with fine brown stipples and smears. Nothing more is known about its breeding ecology.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [9]: Compact Weaver on 2012-08-15

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond

Breeding season
Aug-Oct in W Africa (from Sierra Leone E to Nigeria), Jan-Feb in Gabon, and Jul-Sept in PRCongo; May-Jun and also Feb and Aug-Oct in Uganda; regional differences in DRCongo, Sept-Nov in Uele region, Feb-Apr in Kwilu area

Nest site
attached 1.4-2.8 m above ground to vertical grass stems, tops of supporting grasses stripped of seeds (and often nipped off)

Nest building
no information

Colony size
nests sometimes within 10 m of each other

Clutch size
3-4 eggs

Egg colour
white, grey or pale bluish-green with fine brown stipples and smears, or plain blue-grey or coffee-coloured

Egg size
average size of six eggs 18.8 x 13.2 mm (Sierra Leone)

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

Vm 7114

Vm 5771

Thumb-nails of recent PHOWN records

[updated 16/10/2023]