Usambara Weaver Ploceus nicolli

Weaver species list / RELATED SPECIES: Bar-winged Weaver / Brown-capped Weaver / Dark-backed Weaver / Golden-naped Weaver / Maxwell’s Black Weaver / Olive-headed Weaver / Preuss’s Weaver / Red-bellied Malimbe / Red-headed Malimbe / Red-headed Weaver / Usambara Weaver / Yellow-capped Weaver / Yellow-legged Weaver / Yellow-mantled Weaver

IUCN: Endangered Discovery: 110

Categories: nuthatch, IUCN


Usambara Weaver, figure from Mackworth 1955a
Usambara Weaver distribution, type locality circled



The Usambara Weaver was formally described by William Lutley Sclater, a British zoologist and museum director.The Usambara Weaver was collected by Reginald Ernest Moreau, an English civil servant and African ornithologist.

In 1928 Moreau moved to the East African Agricultural Research Station, Amani, where he at first worked in the accounts department.

Mr. Moreau wrote on 22 June 1931: “We have just got a Weaver here which beats me completely. The bird was the male of a pair that looked alike, and it was obtained just outside my office, i.e., at the edge of the forest. We have seen the bird perhaps hail a dozen times in the three years we have been here, and have always been puzzled by it.” Later Moreau wrote that he had asked his African collector to keep a look-out for this weaver. The collector saw the bird one evening in the immediate vicinity of the laboratories and he pursued it through the plantations in the twilight, eventually obtaining the male type specimen.

In September and October 1931 an immature male and female were obtained in Cedrela-trees in a clearing about five miles north of Amani, confirming that this was a new species, and not an Olive-headed Weaver.

Before moving to Tanzania, Moreau had lived in Egypt where he had met Michael John Nicoll who was the director at the Giza Zoological Gardens. Nicoll had provided much help and encouragement in the study of ornithology to Moreau. When Moreau sent the Usambara Weaver type to the British Museum, he asked that this bird be named after the late Mr. Michael John Nicoll, to whom he was indebted.

The Usambara Weaver was first illustrated by Mackworth 1955a, and then not again until the advent of modern bird field guides.

Scientific citation

Ploceus (Symplectes) nicolli Sclater 1931a, Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 52 p.26, Amani, East Usambara Mts., NE. Tanganyika.

Meaning of names

nicolli, Named after Michael John Nicoll (fl. 1924) who helped Reginald Moreau during his long residence in Egypt.

First English name

Nicoll’s Weaver (Sclater 1933a).

Alternate names

Nicoll’s Weaver.


Reginald Ernest Moreau’s collector.

Date collected

19 June 1931.

Locality collected

Amani, East Usambara Mts., Tanzania.

Usambara Weaver
Amani (before 1934), figure from paper

Type specimens

The types are in the British Museum of Natural History (BM 1931.5.7.6).

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 [227] – Discovery [110]: Usambara Weaver on 2016-10-19

1. Basic biology

Usambara Weaver
Usambara Weaver, figure from Nik Borrow
Usambara Weaver
Usambara Weaver, figure – stamp from Palestine

Identification. The Usambara Weaver is a rare weaver restricted to Tanzanian mountain forests. It is black above with a yellow belly and flanks. It is distinguished from the Dark-backed Weaver, with which it associates, by the yellow eye and large chestnut patch on the breast. It was previously treated as a race of the similar Olive-headed Weaver but the Usambara Weaver has a darker back and different habitat. Usambara Weaver map

Distribution. The Usambara Weaver occurs at low densities in montane forests in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, where it appears to have a very small and greatly fragmented population (see map above, based on Birds of Africa).

Map colours:
Light green – West Usambaras – frequent
Blue – Mt Nilo in the East Usambaras – present
Grey – Ulugurus – rare
Red – Udzungwa Mountains – sparse but widespread.

Usambara Weaver
Usambara Weaver nest, figure from PHOWN

No races are recognised, although birds in the south have sometimes been recognized as a separate race based on minor plumage differences. It is considered rare, since forest is highly fragmented and is being progressively cleared for agriculture, timber and plantations. Its global population is currently estimated to be less than 2500 individuals, and declining.

Habitat. The Usambara Weaver inhabits the canopy of montane evergreen forests. It occasionally occurs at forest edge, in disturbed forest, plantations and in isolated trees in cultivated areas. The Usambara Weaver occurs singly, in pairs, or in mixed-species flocks, often with the Dark-backed Weaver.

Food. The Usambara Weaver feeds on insects. It often hangs upside-down from branches while foraging, to glean insects from trees covered in epiphytes. It also probes bark and lichen for hidden food.

Breeding. The Usambara Weaver is probably monogamous. The nest resembles that of the Dark-backed Weaver, being constructed from dry tendrils and creepers, but it has a shorter entrance tunnel with a flared opening. Nothing else is known of the breeding of this species.

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [103]: Usambara Weaver on 2014-06-04

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
no information

Breeding season
no information

Nest site
no information

Nest building
Nest resembles that of P. bicolor (made from dry tendrils and creepers), with shorter entrance tunnel and more flared opening. No other information

Colony size
no information

Clutch size
no information

Egg colour
no information

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

Vm 11297

Thumb-nails of recent PHOWN records