Home | Bird Breeding | Introducing the Pin-Tailed Whydah or Widowbird (Vidua macruura)

Introducing the Pin-Tailed Whydah or Widowbird (Vidua macruura)

An Under-handed Reproductive Strategy
At first glance, it might seem odd that East Africa’s pin-tailed whydah is such a popular aviary bird, as this resourceful sneak lays its eggs in the nests of other species, and relies upon the unwitting “foster parents” to raise its young. This reproductive strategy, termed brood parasitism, is shared by most the whydah’s 18 relatives, all classified within the family Viduidae. I should point out that adult whydahs do not (as is the case with a better known brood parasite, the common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus) toss out or eat the host’s eggs, and the fledglings rarely dislodge host chicks from the nest – the foster parents usually raise both successfully.So, in order to breed pin-tailed whydahs, one must have at least one mated pair of host birds, synchronized to lay eggs at a time favorable to a mated pair of whydahs. As successful and aspiring breeders can imagine, this can be very tricky, and will likely consume no small amount of time, space and money.

However, upon first viewing a male whydah in courtship flight, I immediately understood why many people happily put in the effort. The breeding male trails a fabulous, 10-12 inch tail from his 5-inch long, finch-like body, which itself is boldly marked in black and white. What’s more, his bobbing flight is often punctuated by falcon-like dives, which add to the drama of the display. Three to six females, or more, may line up to view his efforts.

Breeding Whydahs
Those of you with spacious outdoor aviaries, and tempted to take on a new challenge, might wish to consider this fascinating bird. Its usual host, the red-eared waxbill (Estrilida troglodytes) is common in the trade a reliable breeder. The waxbill’s courtship behavior usually brings the whydah into breeding readiness in short order.

If you do take on pin-tailed whydahs, bear in mind that they are polygamous in nature, and so are best kept in groups consisting of 1 cock and 2-6 hens (males are intolerant of each other). If you lack the space required by these gorgeous birds, by all means try to see them in a zoo or, better yet, in the wild (they are quite common throughout much of East Africa – the name “whydah” is drawn from a Nigerian town of the same name).


You can read more about whydahs in the wild and captivity at:


  1. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    I live in Cape Town South Africa and lucky to have a resident Pin Tailed Whyda as the gaurdian of my garden,When I say resident,I mean from first light until dark, he has a female harem of about 4-11.
    On several occasions we have witnessed the arrival of another male and the ensuing chase is somewhat of a battle in flight.
    One does not realise that the Whyda can fly so fast, as generally they are seen as hovering, or attacking any other birds that invade their feeding area, such as Sparrows, Doves, Bush Pidgeons. However, the Weaver is not put off and on occasion has chased the aggressive Whyda.Thank you for your article which my wife and I find extremely informative.
    We would like to find out more about this bird, we call ours “The Terminator”.
    Kind regards

  2. avatar

    Hello Dave, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and for relaying your observations – birders here in the US will be quite jealous of your opportunities!

    True as you say about their flying abilities…I have kept whydahs in large exhibits and was surprised their speed. It’s very useful to point that out – too often aviculturists do not have the chance to see pet trade birds in the wild.

    The University of Capetown has posted an excellent article on pin tailed whydah breeding behavior that you might find interesting.

    Enjoy, good luck and please pass along any interesting sightings if you have the chance.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Hello Frank
    Great article. I was wondering what is the smallest aviary taht you could breed a pair of pin tails in (with 5-6 pairs of waxbills of course)?

    Thanks John

  4. avatar

    Hello John, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words.

    Your best option would be to have one constructed… our largest model is appx 9 x 5 x 6 feet and would only work if the birds could be induced to breed in a pair situation, and with only another pair of waxbills present. Whydah’s breed most successfully when kept in groups – 1 male with 2-6 females, and, as you mentioned, several pairs of hosts. Since much space and effort would be required in any event, I’d suggest going all the way and building an aviary of at least 20 x 10 x 8 feet. Please let me know if you need references on aviary construction.

    I hope you go ahead, it really is a fascinating prospect!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar
    Thelma Darwicki

    Spotted this weird bird feeding on the ground at my house in Yorba Linda California, U.S.A. Thought at first it had a stick on its foot then relized it had a huge long tail. Never saw one before! Googled it and it was the Pin-tailed Whydah from Africa! For the past 4 months we also have had Spice finches a flock of over a dozen feeding in our bird feeders along side the house finches.

  6. avatar

    Hello Thelma, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the most interesting report. California has perhaps the highest concentration of exotic bird breeders in the USA, which results in many surprises. Your local Audubon Society chapter might be interested to know…they usually have a site to post such sightings.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Late this afternoon a ring-tailed whynah visited our back yard bird feeder. We had never seen such an exotic bird in our yard and had to look it up in our bird book to identify it. We live in Laguna Niguel,California and are excited to see if it returns to our feeder!

  8. avatar

    Pin tailed ,not ring tailed…sorry for that

  9. avatar

    Hi Jan,

    Thanks for the most interesting observation; a reader reported 1 in Yorba Linda, California last year; please keep me posted, I’m eager to see if these are isolated incidents or perhaps an established population,.

    Best, Frank

  10. avatar

    Don’t worry…I assumed that’s what you meant! Please let me know how all goes, Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi Frank
    Thank you for your interesting info and helpful advice. I live on the southwestern Cape coast of South Africa 200 metres from the sea. I have bird-feeding trays in the garden and for several months have seen flocks (up to 30 birds) of common waxbills visit the trays daily. Recently, a pin-tailed whydah arrived and was joined by three other males. One of the whydahs chased off the other males, but then I noticed he would “charge” any other bird sitting at the trays. In fact he would aggressively pursue them. His presence seems to have had a remarkable effect on the bird population visiting my garden. The waxbills don’t visit at all now, and even the weavers seem scarce. I am wondering if this beautiful bird is the reason for the birds not coming. He is ever vigilant and chases away any bird that arrives.

  12. avatar

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the most interesting comment…always great to have first-hand observations, especially concerning birds that I and most of my readers have seen only in zoos.

    They are very territorial, even as regards different species; this is especially true concerning others that feed on seeds and insects, as they are viewed as competitors. Having a clear, “distraction free” arena in which to display is also a factor, at least among certain other species.

    Please keep me posted,

    Best regards, Frank

  13. avatar

    There’s a male pin-tailed whydah in my yard now! He is alternating between perching & preening, and chasing off the young Eurasian Collared doves. I’d be delighted if he stays around and brings the rest of his flock! I’d never seen one before – had to Google it to identify it.
    Westminster, Calif.

  14. avatar

    We live in the North Tustin, CA area and had a male whydah about a year ago on our property. We had a bird feeder with seeds that no doubt attracted it. It chased off all the other birds no matter their size with its aggressive behavior. Most problematic was that it kept crashing into our windows with its claws extended (so it didn’t get hurt) apparently seeing its reflection and thinking it was another male on its turf. Very very annoying. We had to remove the feeder and after about a week the Whydah disappeared.


  15. avatar

    Hello Charles,

    Thanks for the interesting observation…no doubt an escapee….males in breeding condition typically do behave in that way; very bold for their size. Best, Frank

  16. avatar

    Hi all,
    About 2 years ago I sent an e-mail with regard to a Pin Tailed Whyda that took over our garden, Cape Town, South Africa, then we moved to a small Farm and lots of other birds but no Whyda.
    what a delightful surprise the other day when there arrived, either our long lost friend, or a replacement with all his harem and has certainly carried on where he or his like left off.
    Very kind regards
    Dave and Louise Rishworth

  17. avatar

    Hello Dave and Louise,

    Thanks for the interesting observation; I hope all is well.

    Some of my readers in California have had visits to their yards and feeders from whydahs that have apparently escaped captivity. Males usually carry on just as in the wild…taking over the yard and driving out other birds of all sizes. Great to have some first-hand observations on their behavior within their natural range (many birders here, myself included, envy you!). Please keep me posted when you have a chance.

    Enjoy, Frank

  18. avatar

    We have one male and two females in our backyard right now – not too far from Yorba Linda (a couple miles) where one was seen previously)

  19. avatar

    We have we believe an escapee one that showed up at a local High school in Concord, CA. Beautiful male by our local bird photographers. I tried to find it with no luck.

  20. avatar

    Thank you!…California seems to be a hot spot, enjoy, Frank

  21. avatar

    I can’t stand these birds. I must have 50 or more in our backyard in Yorba Linda CA. When I first saw the male last year I completely loved the little guy. He soon took over our two feeding. He does not bother a yellow finches but has chased out or lovely sparrows. Now I have baby Wehdahs, males and hens galore. They multiply like cray. They are to small for my local hawks, to bad, like to see them get eaten. I can’t stands these birds now, they are WAY to aggresive. I could stop feeding them but then I’ll lose my other birds. I have to get rid of these terrible little creatures:-) They are pretty, but have just taken over. Go back to Africa… how the heck did they get here anyway?

  22. avatar

    Hi Kirk,

    Thanks…I’ve not had any reports of so many! They are escapees from the pet trade, apparently. Calif. and Fla are hotspots for exotic birds, reptiles and fish. Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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