Euplectes axillaris (Fan-tailed widowbird, Red-shouldered widow) 

Kortstertflap [Afrikaans]; Isahomba, Isakhomba (terms applied to Yellow bishop) [Xhosa]; iNtaka (also applied to Red-collared widow), uMahube, uMangube [Zulu]; Enzunge (applied to some of the bishops, widows and sparrows) [Kwangali]; Roodschouderwidavink [Dutch]; Euplecte à épaules orangées [French]; Stummelwida [German]; Viúva-de-espáduas-vermelhas [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Ploceidae > Genus: Euplectes

Euplectes axillaris (Fan-tailed widowbird, Red-shouldered widow)  Euplectes axillaris (Fan-tailed widowbird, Red-shouldered widow) 

Fan-tailed widowbird breeding male, Divundu, Namibia. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Fan-tailed widowbird non-breeding male, South Africa. [photo William Du Plessis ©]

Distribution and habitat

Although it occupies small patches in West Africa, the bulk of its population occurs from Ethiopia through Tanzania, Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. Here it is fairly common in northern Botswana and the Caprivi Stip (Namibia), as well as from central Mozambique through to eastern and south-eastern South Africa. It generally prefers tall, moist grassland, marshes and cultivated areas (such as sugar cane fields), although in the Okavango Delta it also occurs in reedbeds and Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) swamps.

Distribution of Fan-tailed widowbird 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.  


It mainly eats grass seeds taken from the ground or directly from plants, occasionally foraging for insects. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Grass seeds
    • Digitaria velutina (Finger grass)
    • Panicum maximum (Guinea grass)
    • Paspalum dilatatum (Common paspalum)
    • Echinochloa colona (Jungle rice)
  • Insects


  • Polygynous solitary nester, as each male can mate with up to 4 females in a breeding season, defending a territory with up to 8 nests against other Euplectes species. It is thought the males with the largest and brightest shoulders (actually known as epaulets) are the most successful at setting up territories.
  • The nest is built by the male and consists of an oval ball with a side entrance, made of woven grass strips and lined by the female with grass seed heads. It is typically placed in a clump of grass in marshy ground or in rank vegetation between sugar cane fields.
  • Egg-laying season is from October-March, peaking from November-January.
  • It lay 2-3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 12-13 days.
  • The chicks are fed by the female only, leaving the nest after about 15-16 days, and remaining dependent on their mother for food for about two more weeks.


Not threatened.


  • 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. 



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