Scaly Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons Scientific name definitions

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


Systematics History

Estrelda squamifrons A. Smith, 1836, Report of the Expedition for Exploring Central Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope, p. 49; type locality reported as "South Africa" (23), but later restricted to Kuruman by Clancey (24).

There are at least 4 type specimens in different museums: Natural History Museum, London (BM 1872.10.4.92; 25), Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (ANSP 13911), and World Museum, Liverpool (D1774 and D1774a; 26).


Fringilla lepidoptera Lichtenstein, 1842, Verzeichniss einer Sammlung von Säugethieren und Vögeln aus dem Kaffernlande, p. 15 (27).

Sporopipes squamifrons damarensis Reichenow, 1905, Die Vögel Afrikas 3:838. Type locality given as Rehoboth, South West Africa [=Namibia] (28). Type in Berlin Museum.

Sporopipes squamifrons fuligescens Clancey, 1957, Durban Museum Novitates 5(4):49; type listed as "Glen, on the Modder River, north of Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa" [=Free State Province] (29). The type specimen is an adult male collected by P. A. Clancey on 11 May 1957 (29).

Sporopipes squamifrons pallidus, Rosa Pinto, 1967, Boletim do Instituto de Investigação científica de Angola 4:29-32; type locality listed as "Caraculo, Moçamedes, Angola" [=Namibe, Angola]. The type specimen was collected by A. M. Ferreira on 14 June 1962 (30).

Some early authors placed this species in genera Estrelda and Amadina. Scaly Weaver forms a superspecies with Speckle-fronted Weaver (Sporopipes frontalis) (31). Based on a detailed anatomical study of Scaly Weaver, it was proposed that the two Sporopipes species should constitute their own subfamily, the Sporopipinae (32). This subfamily was, in many respects, intermediate between the typical weavers (Ploceus), and the buffalo-weavers (Bubalornis), and sparrow-weavers (Plocepasser). Although it shares certain anatomical features with Estrildidae, Sushkin (32) was of the opinion that Sporopipes most certainly did not belong in the family Estrildidae. Other authors have also placed it in its own subfamily (e.g., 33).

Genetic studies have largely vindicated Sushkin (32), although its position is still not fully resolved. In one study, it appears that Sporopipes is sister to the genera Plocepasser, Philetairus, Pseudonigrita, and Histurgops, and together are placed in the subfamily Plocepasserinae (34). However, another study instead found that the position of Sporopipes is not fully resolved, and forms a polytomy near the base of the entire Ploceidae family, together with Plocepasser, Philetairus, Pseudonigrita, and Histurgops (35).

Geographic Variation

Varies mainly in the shades of gray on upperparts, and the color of the feather fringes. A series of birds from Angola, which would represent the nominate subspecies, Sporopipes squamifrons squamifrons were reportedly slightly smaller than birds from Namibia (20), but the sample size was small, and these size differences may not be real.


Some subspecies are recognized by recent authors (e.g., 36, 37), but treated as monotypic in the Clements checklist (38). Proposed subspecies fuligenscens recognized as valid by some (2, 36, 37), but not others (1), and described on the basis of its darker plumage than the nominate, with the upperparts more grayish, and underparts generally whiter. The edges of the scaly feathers on the head, wing coverts, and tail were also described as white, not sandy like the nominate subspecies, however these differences are probably not distinct enough to warrant subspecific distinction. Proposed subspecies pallidus from southwestern Angola was described as being paler and smaller than the nominate (30). Proposed subspecies damarensis was described from Rehoboth, central Namibia, based on its paler, grayer plumage; it was recognized by some (e.g., 39), but has generally not been accepted as a valid subspecies by most recent authorities (36, 38, 37).

Related Species

Scaly Weaver is sister to Speckle-fronted Weaver (Sporopipes frontalis), the only other member of the genus Sporopipes (34, 35). These two species have at times been placed in their own subfamily, Sporopipinae (32, 33). Together, these two species may be sister to a group of weavers in the genera Plocepasser, Philetairus, Pseudonigrita, and Histurgop (34). However, this relationship has not been recovered in all studies, with these two species instead forming a polytomy with those same genera near the base of the Ploceidae phylogeny (35).


No records of hybridization in the wild or in captivity (40).


In isiZulu, the Scaly Weaver is referred to as Usontshetshana (41). In Tswana, it is Letsetsenkana (42). In Sotho (Northern), it is Thaga (42).

In southern Africa, which comprises the bulk of the range of this species, it is known as the Scaly-feathered Finch, while internationally known as the Scaly Weaver, which is more in line with the English name of its sister species, the Speckle-fronted Weaver (Sporopipes frontalis). Other names include Scaly-feathered Weaver (37) and Scaly-fronted Weaver. In aviculture, it is also known as the Scaly-crowned Weaver (43).

In Afrikaans, it is referred to as Baardmannetjie (meaning "bearded man," referring to the black malar stripes), as well as Gryskoppie (meaning "gray head") (44).

Fossil History

Information needed.

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