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This account is part of the 8th edition of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. This project is a joint collaboration between the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. H. Dieter Oschadleus revised the account. Peter Pyle contributed to the Plumages, Molts, and Structure page. Shawn M. Billerman contributed to the Systematics page. Arnau Bonan Barfull curated the media. Huy C. Truong updated the distribution map.
Sporopipes squamifrons (Smith, 1836)
The Key to Scientific Names
Scaly Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons Scientific name definitions
Version: 2.0 — Published February 23, 2023
The Scaly Weaver is a southern African near-endemic; extending marginally into southwestern Angola as far north as Benguela, and the extreme south of Zambia, where it was first recorded in 1994, and now nests annually in the Simungoma area (45). In southern Africa, it occurs in Namibia (except for the coastal desert), Botswana, west and central Zimbabwe, the central and western Limpopo Province, and northwestern Mpumalanga, south and west to the Northern Cape. Isolated populations occur in the Karoo in the central and western Eastern Cape, and far eastern part of the Western Cape (46).
Historical Changes to the Distribution
Broadly, the historical range is not known to differ much from the current range, but there have been recent range extensions on some edges of its range.
In Zimbabwe, this species has moved a considerable distance from the west to the far eastern Lowveld since 2015. It was seen as far east as Fishans, Gonarezhou on 7 June 2015 (47), at Sango and Senuko Ranch in the Save Valley Conservancy in January 2018 (48), and near Mahenya in August 2020 (49), and with recent SABAP2 records from the area, it is suggested that the species could be resident there now, far removed to the east and south of its traditional range (49).
The eastward range expansion in Zimbabwe is also matched by a concomitant range extension of Scaly Weaver, and other Vachellia specialists, to the east in South Africa, especially in the semi-arid Limpopo River valley, with a breeding population now established in the far northern Kruger National Park (50). There are also other isolated breeding populations at a few other localities in the Lowveld of the Limpopo Province (see SABAP), and reporting rates in these regions have increased since 2010. Historical records of the species in the Kruger National Park and the Lowveld in the 1970s were ascribed to vagrancy or possible aviary escapees (51), but it now appears that habitat changes associated with subsistence agricultural activities, e.g., clearing of land for crop production, overgrazing by livestock, and wood harvesting, favor thornbush encroachment, a habitat type favored by Scaly Weaver.
In Zambia, a group of about ten Scaly Weaver were seen at least 110 km north of its usual range, near Sioma (16.725°S, 23.560°E) on 10 November 2019 (52).
In South Africa, the species had a disjunct distribution, with a large population inhabiting much of the Kalahari basin, and a small, isolated population in the Karoo region of the Eastern Cape Province, with no intervening records between about 30.5°S and 32°S (46). However, SABAP2 data (since 2007), show a gradual erosion of this isolation, with several records of the species from the intervening area. It is not known if the Scaly Weaver was simply overlooked in this region during SABAP1, or if it has colonized this area, possibly in response to habitat changes.