Sociable weaver

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Sociable weaver
Sociable weaver (Philetairus socius).jpg
At Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa

Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Ploceidae
Genus: Philetairus
A. Smith, 1837
P. socius
Binomial name
Philetairus socius
(Latham, 1790)
Philetairus socius distribution map.png
Distribution of Philetairus socius in the Southern Kalahari region across South Africa, Namibia and Botswana
Exemplar in the Sossusvlei
, Namibia.

The sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) is a species of bird in the weaver family that is endemic to southern Africa.[2] It is the only species in the monotypic genus Philetairus. It is found in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.[1] but their range is centered within the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.[3] They build large compound community nests, a rarity among birds. These nests are perhaps the most spectacular structure built by any bird.[4]

Taxonomy and systematics

The sociable weaver was first described by ornithologist John Latham in 1790. Alternative names include the common social weaver, common social-weaver, and social weaver.[5] Formerly, four sub-species were recognised but the species is now considered monotypic. The sociable weaver is the only extant species in the genus Philetairus.[6]


Based on a 2017 DNA-analysis, Philetairus socius belongs to the group of sparrow weavers (subfamily Plocepasserinae) and is most related to the genus

Plocepasser. The most basic genus of the subfamily is Sporopipes.[7]
Provided that genera are correct clades, the following tree expresses current insights.


Amblyospiza albifrons




Philetairus socius



Dinemellia dinemelli



all other weaverbirds


Measuring around 14 cm (5+12 in) in length, the sociable weaver has a black chin, black barred flanks and a scalloped back.[8] They weigh 26–32 g (15161+18 oz), and sexes are indistinguishable.[2]

Distribution and habitat

The species ranges across northwestern South Africa, southwest Botswana and extending northwards across Namibia.[8] It is strongly associated with the arid savannas characteristic of the southern Kalahari region.[2] The presence of stiff grasses such as Stipagrostis ciliata (syn. Aristida ciliata) – an important nesting material – is an important determinant of its distribution.[3] The taller grasses and the fire-prone nature of the Northern and Central Kalahari regions may be a factor for the absence of the bird in those regions.[3] The area is semi-arid with low and unpredictable rainfall occurring mostly in the summer. The population has not been quantified but the birds are described as "common to abundant".[1]

Behaviour and ecology


In the southern range of the weaver's habitat, breeding may occur any time of the year and is closely linked to rainfall. In the northern range, discrete breeding season between December to August has been noted.[3] They may skip breeding during years when there is low rainfall and a substantial number (sometimes over half) of birds in the colony may never breed in a given season.[2] Under typical conditions, weavers raise up to four broods per breeding cycle. Sociable weavers are known to assist in the care of younger siblings and unrelated hatchlings and nearly all pairs are assisted by helpers.[2] A mating pair has been recorded as producing nine broods in a single season in response to repeated predation of its young. Unlike northern temperate passerine birds which commence breeding within the first year of life, sociable weavers exhibit delayed onset of breeding, sometimes up to two years of age.[2]


Sociable weavers construct permanent nests on trees and other tall objects. These nests are amongst the largest built by any bird, and are large enough to house over a hundred pairs of birds,[9] containing several generations at a time. The nests are highly structured and provide birds with a more advantageous temperature relative to the outside. The central chambers retain heat and are used for nighttime roosting. The outer rooms are used for daytime shade and maintain temperatures of 7–8 °C (45–46 °F) inside while outside temperatures may range from 16–33 °C (61–91 °F).[10]

The nests consist of separate chambers, each of which is occupied by a pair (sometimes with offspring) and used to roost and breed. Nests are built around large and sturdy structures like acacia trees or sometimes even telephone poles. The trees generally used for nest-building are

Colophospermum mopane trees for nesting.[3] Large nesting colonies can be active across many generations, sometimes over a hundred years.[2][11] The nest appears like a large haystack in the tree. If seen from below, entrances into the chambers may be seen, giving a honey-comb appearance. The entrances may be about 3 in (76 mm) wide and can be up to 10 in (250 mm) long.[11] Sharp sticks may be placed to deter predators from entering.[citation needed

Sociable weaver nests form a habitat that is occupied by animals of many different taxa. This includes several other bird species, who utilize the nest in different ways, such as for breeding (as with the

pygmy falcon in some sites in Kimberley.[12]

Reptile species also use the nests. Snakes, especially Cape cobras and boomslangs are the most common nest predators, often consuming all the eggs in all the chambers of a large nest.[10] Nest predation is often as high - in one study 70% of the clutches laid were depredated.[2] In addition, Trachylepis spilogaster (Kalahari Tree Skink) associate with the nests. Trees with nests appear to host more skinks than trees without nests.[13] Additionally, these skinks have learned to eavesdrop on sociable weaver alarm calls to determine when a pygmy falcon, one of its main predators) is approaching.[14]

Nests built in electricity poles sometimes cause short circuits in the rainy season and can catch fire in the dry season.[15]

There is evidence that cooperation in nest-building is driven by kin selection.[16][17]

The bird droppings under the nesting colonies of the sociable weaver are used by the scarab beetles.[18]


The sociable weaver is insectivorous with insects comprising 80% of their diet. As an adaptation to living in the dry Kalahari Desert, where standing water is scarce, the sociable weaver obtains all of its water from a diet of insects. They also feed on seed and other plant products. Foraging is predominantly on the ground, but also on bark and leaves of trees.[2]


Populations of the sociable weaver increased during the 2010s, perhaps due to increased availability of nesting structures such as electricity pylons and other man-made structures. Most of its present distribution is unlikely to see any major man-made alteration and its future in these areas is secure. However, a gap in its distribution in the Northern Cape Province, north of the Ghaap Plateau is probably due to habitat alteration by clearance of Acacia. In other areas, encroachment due to overgrazing may also cause local extinction.[citation needed]


  • The entrances to the chambers from below

    The entrances to the chambers from below

  • A nest on an electricity pole

    A nest on an electricity pole


  1. ^ . Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Covas, R. (2002). Life-history Evolution and Cooperative Breeding in the Sociable Weaver (PDF) (PhD). Percy Fitzpatrick Institute - University of Cape Town. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mendelsohn, J.M.; Anderson, M.D. (1997). "Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius" (PDF). In J.A. Harrison; D.G. Allan; L.G. Underhill; M. Herremans; A.J. Tree; V. Parker; C.J. Brown (eds.). The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa. pp. 534–535. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-15.
  4. ^ Collias, Nicholas E; Collias, Elsie C. (January 1977). "Weaverbird nest aggregation and evolution of the compound nest" (PDF). The Auk. 94: 50–64. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  5. ^ "Common names for Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius)". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  6. ^ "ITIS Standard Report Page: Philetairus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  7. S2CID 205841906
  8. ^ .
  9. .
  10. ^ .
  11. ^ a b c "Birds: Sociable Weavers". San Diego Zoo: Animals and plants. Zoological society of San Diego. Archived from the original on 2010-12-23. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  12. S2CID 85568509. Archived from the original
    (PDF) on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  13. .
  14. .
  15. ^ Management of Wildlife interactions with power line networks Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine. NamPower/NNF Strategic Partnership (2009).
  16. PMID 25039999
  17. .
  18. ^ "A tree with the nesting colonies of the sociable weaver grows along D707 road in Namibia". Independent Travellers. Retrieved December 24, 2017.

External links