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E. a. axillaris; male
Photo by Alan Manson
Cedara, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, December 2011
Euplectes axillaris


Length 15-17 cm. A short-tailed widowbird.

Breeding male: Black with red 'shoulders' and buff greater wing-coverts. The tail is fanned only in display.
Non-breeding male: Brown, streaked blackish; with black primaries and red 'shoulders'.
Female: Brown with blackish streaking above and reddish 'shoulders'.


Widespread throughout Africa:
Western Africa Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Eastern Africa Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mafia Island, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi.
Southern Africa Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, eSwatini.

E. a. traversii; male
Photo by volker sthamer
Jimma, Ethiopia, August 2010



Euplectes axillaris has five subspecies:[1]

  • E. a. bocagei
  • E. a. traversii
  • E. a. phoeniceus
  • E. a. zanzibaricus
  • E. a. axillaris

E. a. axillaris; female
Photo by Alan Manson


Tall grassland, reedbeds and sugar cane fields.


Non-breeding birds forage in large flocks (often with other seed-eating species).


Diet is mainly grass seeds; also insects.


The male sings from an elevated perch and in flight: a series of twittering and chirping sounds.


Photo by Alan Manson

Polygynous; male defends a territory of up to 0.6 ha and breeds with up to four females in a season. The oval nest is built using grass and has a side-top entrance. It is located in marsh or rank vegetation within 0.8 m of the ground. Two to three eggs are incubated for 12-14 days by the female; the nestling period is 15-16 days.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Hockey, PAR, WRJ Dean, and PG Ryan, eds. 2005. Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa. 7th ed. Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund. ISBN 978-0620340533
  3. Sinclair, I and P Ryan. 2003. Birds of Africa South of the Sahara. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0691118154

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