Red-collared Widowbird Euplectes ardens

Weaver species list / RELATED SPECIES: Black Bishop / Black-winged Bishop / Fire-fronted Bishop / Golden-backed Bishop / Northern Red Bishop / Red-collared Widowbird / Southern Red Bishop / Yellow-crowned Bishop / Zanzibar Bishop

IUCN: Least concern Discovery: 012

Categories: long tail, fruit, nectar, pest


Red-collared Widowbird male (with Shaft-tailed Whydah), figure from Buffon 1770
Red-collared Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird male, figure from Sonnerat 1776

Red-collared Widowbird map
Red-collared Widowbird distribution, type locality circled



The Red-collared Widowbird was formally named by Pieter Boddaert, a Dutch naturalist, in 1783. The background comments about Boddaert and the Count of Buffon are the same as listed under the Long-tailed Widowbird.Boddaert published the first Linnean binomial names (scientific names) for the Red-collared Widowbird. This species was illustrated in Edme-Louis Daubenton’s book of illustrations – the coloured engravings by Francois-Nicolas Martinet were published in 1783 as Planches enluminees. But Buffon had also published an earlier version with a limited number of species in a book of plates in 1770, and the only weaver to feature here was the Red-collared Widowbird. The 1770 painting may have been painted by Martinet, but is different to the later version in 1783. Both paintings, however, show a red circle on the breast of the male widowbird instead of a collar. This may be due to the breast feathers being damaged between collection and arrival in Paris.

Boddaert and Buffon gave this species the French name Veuve en feu, ie. burning widow, referring to the bright red breast colour in contrast to the rest of the black plumage. Boddaert also gave the scientific name based on the bright red on the breast of the male.

Buffon noted that the bird originated from Cap de Bonne Esperance & a I’ile Panay, ie the Cape of Good Hope and Panay island in the Philippines. This was based on one of Buffon’s many correspondents, Pierre Sonnerat. Sonnerat made several voyages to southeast Asia, visiting the Philippines and Moluccas between 1769 and 1772. He must have collected the Red-collared Widowbird in 1769 (or 1770) in South Africa en route from the Philippines to France, where Buffon illustrated it in 1770. Sonnerat published his travel diary in 1776 and also listed this widowbird from “Cap de Bonne Esperance & a I’ile Panay”. Why he listed Panay Island is not clear.

The Cape of Good Hope could mean the Cape in its broadest sense, ie either the Western or Eastern Cape. Mackworth-Praed & Grant 1955 restricted the locality to the Eastern Cape, as the Red-collared Widowbird does not occur in the Western Cape. Buffon had many correspondents who sent him specimens from different places in the world, but no details are published for the Red-collared Widowbird as to who collected this species.

Scientific citation

Fringilla ardens Boddaert 1783 Tabl. Planch. Enlum., p39 Cape of Good Hope, S Africa (ex Daubenton, Planch. Enlum., pl 647). Restricetd to E Cape.

Meaning of names

ardens (Latin) = glowing, burning (ardere, to burn).

First English name

The Fire-coloured Widow (Buffon 1793).

Alternate names

Black Widowbird, Cut-throat Widow-bird, Flaming Whydah, Red-Hooded Whydah, Red-naped Widowbird.


Pierre Sonnerat.

Date collected

Between 1769-1770, when Sonnerat visited the Philippines (and before the publication of Buffon’s 1770 colour engraving of the species).

Locality collected

Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Type specimens

No type specimens known to survive, but the painting of Buffon serves as a type.

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 [129] – Discovery [12]: Red-collared Widowbird on 2014-12-03

1. Basic biology

Red-collared Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird, adult male, S Africa
Red-collared Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird, adult male, Kenya

Identification. The adult male Red-collared Widowbird Euplectes ardens in breeding plumage (above) is black, often with a red collar or head, and a long tail. Females (below) and non-breeding males are dull coloured, with a yellowish eye-stripe and yellowish or buffy breast sharply demarcated from the white belly.

male (non breeding) – underwing coverts black female (non breeding) – underwing coverts grey

Distribution. The Red-collared Widowbird is a widespread widowbird in Africa, being found from Senegal across to Ethiopia and south to eastern South Africa in the localities shown on the map above (based on Birds of Africa). Many subspecies have been recorded. Currently accepted subspecies are:
nominate E.a. ardens, found in West, central and southern Africa (red on map); the male usually has a red collar on the breast (above) but may be black;
E.a. laticauda, found in Ethiopia, Eritrea and SE Sudan (blue on map); the male has a red collar, crown and nape;
E.a. suahelicus, found in the highlands of Kenya and N Tanzania (green on map); the male has a red collar, and varying amount of red on the head (above).

The highland laticauda and suahelicus are isolated from the Iowland birds and from each other, and may be separate species. Molecular studies indicate that the Red-collared Widowbird is a bishop with a long tail, rather than a widow.

Red-collared Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird, female

Habitat. It occurs in a variety of habitats including grassland, rank vegetation, cultivated areas, and slopes with sparse trees.

Food. The Red-collared Widowbird feeds on seeds, insects including termites, nectar. It forages on the ground, often in flocks of 200 birds or more.

Breeding. This species is polygynous and territorial. Males with longer tails attract more females and males with larger red collars held larger territories. Males prefer hillsides, where they can glide downhill for display flights.

Red-collared Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird, nest

The nest is an oval structure with a side entrance, built by the male and lined and strengthened by the female. A male may have 3-22 nest structures placed in tall grass, on his territory.

The eggs are grey or blue-green and heavily speckled with brown, often forming ring near the thick end (see photo at phown 2411).

The above is based on Weaver Wednesday, a weekly series about weaver species.
This species text first appeared as Weaver Wednesday [19]: Red-collared Widowbird on 2012-10-24

2. Breeding facts

Pair bond
Polygynous, male typically with two or three females

Breeding season
Oct-Nov in Sierra Leone, Sept-Oct in Liberia, Sept-Nov in Nigeria and Cameroon, Apr-May and Jul-Oct in Ethiopia; in DRCongo, Sept-Nov in NE and Jan-May in SE; Mar-Apr in Rwanda, Apr-Jun in Uganda, Apr-Jul and Dec-Jan in Kenya, and Jan-May in Tanzania; Jan-Apr in Zambia and Jan-May in Malawi; in Mozambique, Feb-May in W and Oct-Mar in S; Dec-Mar Zimbabwe and Oct-Mar in South Africa

Nest site
placed 1-3.5 m above ground in tall elephant grass, elsewhere often less than 1 m above ground

Nest building
female often does most of building, continues to add lining during incubation period

Colony size
territory containing 3-22 nest structures

Clutch size
2-4 eggs (mean 2.7 in South Africa)

Egg colour
greyish or blue-green, heavily speckled with brown, often forming ring near thick end

Egg size
average size of 149 eggs 18.9 x 13.6 mm (South Africa)

incubation by female only, period 12-15 days

Chicks and nestling period
chicks fed by female only, primarily by regurgitation, nestling period 14-17 days

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

3. Photos of Weaver Nests

Vm 5182

Vm 2411

Thumb-nails of recent PHOWN records

[updated 16/10/2023]