Scaly Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons Scientific name definitions

H. Dieter Oschadleus
Version: 2.0 — Published February 23, 2023



This species is gregarious, and roosts communally in nests at night (see Social and Interspecific Behavior). When threatened on the nest, it will burst through the walls to escape (2). It is a restless and active bird, but also can be tame and confiding (46, 2).


This species spends much time on the ground where it hops briskly, also described as "a shuffling-bouncing hop" (64). It seldom walks (3).



Allopreening is fairly common and has been reported by birds on the ground or while perched ( 66, 67, 64). In captivity, Sporopipes species randomly performed allopreening among unpaired birds, but in pairs, allopreening was performed by the dominant bird and during nesting, the female performed most of the allopreening (68). In all instances, allopreening was directed at the head region (68).

Dust Bathing

Dust bathing has been recorded (69), although no reference or details were provided - this is an extremely rare behavior in the weaver family (70).

Sleeping, Roosting

The Scaly Weaver is known to roost communally for thermoregulatory purposes. Up to 12 birds may roost together in a nest, or 3–4 may cluster together to roost on a branch (see Social and Interspecific Behavior) (1).

Daily Time Budget

Little is known about the daily activity patterns of the Scaly Weaver. It spends much of the cooler parts of the day foraging on the ground, retreating to trees, bushes, and other objects off the surface of the soil with increasing temperature. It uses trees mainly for self-maintenance activities such as preening, communication, and vigilance, but shows a preference for trees offering different degrees of shadiness depending on the ambient temperature (see Diet and Foraging: Metabolism and Temperature Regulation) (59). On cool days and in the early morning, it shows a preference for the less-shady camelthorn trees (Vachellia erioloba), and avoids the dense shade offered by shepherd's trees (Boscia albitrunca). On hot days and during the hottest parts of the day, it switches its preference to shepherd's trees, avoiding trees that offer less shade (59).

Agonistic Behavior

Physical and Communicative Interactions

Bickering is common at a garden feeder (D. Engelbrecht, personal communication), and Edmond Symonds (71) wrote, "I have kept some in my aviary, but they are so pugnacious and quarrelsome that I was glad to get rid of them."

Territorial Behavior

Males defend a small territory (1).

Sexual Behavior

Mating System and Operational Sex Ratio

The Scaly Weaver is monogamous, at least within a breeding season, and male defends a small territory (1).

Courtship, Copulation, and Pair Bond

Courtship is poorly known, but several authors have described some elements. One bird swayed about with tail fanned at the nest entrance (64). The display is similar to that of several estrildid (Estrildidae) finches, with a vertical bobbing display, sometimes with a feather in the bill (72). In another observation, the male pointed his bill upwards, with the "moustaches" clearly visible; the wings were fully extended and lifted above the rump, and vibrated at a fast rate (73).

Copulation has been described three times. A male flew to a female, landed on her back with quivering wings. The female crouched and quivered her wings. The male leaned back to make cloacal contact, but did not grasp the female's nape feathers. The female then quivered both wings and tail, and gave a high-pitched call (1). In another observation, a female perched on a branch, not soliciting, with a male perched on a branch above. The male dropped down and alighted on the back of the female, both birds quivering their wings, then copulated (64). In the third case, the male (based on his role in copulation) approached the female, singing excitedly with quivering wings held slightly away from the body. Occasionally, the male alternately opened and stretched each wing slightly. The female at first took no notice. The male then moved a few branches lower in the same bush, and the female followed suit, her wings now quivering too. She perched immediately adjacent to the male, and the male quickly mounted. Copulation was surprisingly long, at about 10 s. Both birds briefly shook their bodies vigorously and flew off together (74).

Social and Interspecific Behavior

Degree of Sociality

This species usually occurs in small groups of 6–20 birds (57), but is rarely seen singly (62) or in vast numbers (75). The Scaly Weaver is often found in flocks of its own species only, but may also occur with sparrows (Passeridae) (76) and flocks regularly with estrildids (Estrildidae), especially Violet-eared Waxbill (Granatina granatina).

The Scaly Weaver is not a colonial nester, but nests are sometimes clustered in a relatively small area (64). Nests are occasionally found almost side-by-side in a single tree (64).

Communal Roosting

The Scaly Weaver typically roosts at night in a thin-walled roosting nest in groups of up to 12 birds, very rarely as many as 15, and, if disturbed, individuals will burst through the roof of the nest and scatter (77, 78, 57). They are also known to roost in small groups of 3–4 birds in exposed sites, such as a branch within a bush or tree (1). Group huddling while roosting is an important thermoregulatory behavior in this species (see Diet and Foraging: Metabolism and Temperature Regulation).

This species also roosts in the nests of Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius) at night (79), nests that also have thermoregulatory benefits (80). It was shown that the temperatures of occupied nests in the communal nest of the Sociable Weaver may be up to 23 °C higher than the ambient temperature on the outside, conferring tremendous energy savings to the occupants, especially during cold winter nights (80).


Kinds of Predators

Scaly Weaver have been identified in pellets of Barn Owl (Tyto alba) (81), Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus) (82), and Pearl-spotted Owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) (83). Raptors have been seen preying on the Scaly Weaver drinking at waterholes, namely Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), Red-necked Falcon (Falco chicquera) and Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar) (84). An immature male Little Sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) was seen with a Scaly Weaver in its claws (85).

Larger passerines have been observed to kill Scaly Weaver: a Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis) was seen feeding on a Scaly Weaver (86) and Southern Fiscal (Lanius collaris) were seen twice killing Scaly Weaver (87). A Gray-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti) was seen carrying in its bill a full-grown but headless Scaly Weaver that the bushshrike must have killed (88).

Nestlings have been taken by Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas), which pecked through the nest roof to extract the chicks (89). At one nest, a short-snouted grass snake (Psammophis brevirostris) was found in a nest that had contained four 3 to 4-day-old nestlings, and the snake presumably consumed them all (74).

A Scaly Weaver was entangled in a golden orb web spider's (Nephila sp.) nest, but after struggling for more than an hour, it managed to free itself (90). Nests are sometimes occupied by armored bush crickets (Acanthoplus discoidalis), which are likely to feed on eggs and nestlings (2).

Response to Predators

When threatened on the nest, it will burst through the walls to escape (2).

Recommended Citation

Oschadleus, H. D. (2023). Scaly Weaver (Sporopipes squamifrons), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (G. D. Engelbrecht, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.scawea1.02