Spermestes fringilloides (Magpie mannikin, Pied mannikin) 

Dikbekfret [Afrikaans]; Reuzenekstertje [Dutch]; Capucin pie [French]; Riesenelsterchen [German]; Freirinha-maior [Portuguese]

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Spermestes fringilloides (Magpie mannikin, Pied mannikin)  Spermestes fringilloides (Magpie mannikin, Pied mannikin) 

Magpie mannikin. [photo Hugh Chittenden ]

For information about this species, see birdinfo.co.za.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches scattered across sub-Saharan Africa, with the bulk of its population occupying the area from Cameroon to northern Angola, southern DRC, Zambia and southern Africa. Here it is uncommon in northern, central and southern Mozambique, eastern Zimbabwe and locally in and around Anerley and Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal, in fact it is thought to be the rarest breeding bird in South Africa.

Distribution of Magpie mannikin in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Nestlings have been recorded as prey of snakes and Polyboroides typus (African harrier-hawk, Gymnogene).


It generally prefers seeds taken directly from grasses, especially bamboo, supplemented with insects. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Seeds
    • grasses
      • Oxytenanthera abyssinica (Bindura bamboo)
      • species eaten in captivity
        • Poa annua (Annual bluegrass)
        • Eragrostis curvula (Weeping lovegrass)
        • Panicum maximum (Guinea grass)
        • Panicum schinzii (Sweet grass)
        • Sporobolus fimbriatus (Dropseed grass)
        • Sorghum halepense (Johnson grass)
        • Sorgum versicolor (Black-seed sorghum)
    • Bidens pilosa (Common blackjack)
    • Schkuhria pinnata (Dwarf marigold)
  • Insects


  • The nest is built by both sexes in about 7-10 days, consisting of an oval-shaped structure with a side entrance, made of coarse grass stems and lined with fine bamboo flowers, feathers, grass inflorescences and green Asparagus stems. It is typically placed in a bush, tree or bamboo thicket, approximately 1.2-5 metres above ground.
  • Egg-laying season is from October-July, peaking from about December-April.
  • It lays 4-7 eggs, which are incubated for 14-16 days (recorded in captivity).
  • In captivity the chicks stay in the nest for about 19-22 days.


Not threatened globally, but Near-threatened in South Africa, partly due to its dependence on bamboo for food which is not common in KwaZulu-Natal.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree. A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (eds). 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.



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