Long-tailed widowbird

Euplectes progne

The long-tailed widowbird , also known as the “Sakabula,” is a species of bird in the Ploceidae family. The species are found in Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and southern Zaire. The long-tailed widowbird is a medium-sized bird and one of the most common in the territories it inhabits. Adult breeding males are almost entirely black with orange and white shoulders , long, wide tails, and a bluish white bill. Females are rather inconspicuous, their feathers streaked tawny and black with pale patches on the chest, breast and back, narrow tail feathers, and horn-color bills.

When flying, male long-tailed widowbirds are readily visible due to their extremely long tails. Between six and eight of their twelve tail feathers are approximately half a metre long. The tail during flight display is expanded vertically into a deep, long keel below the male as he flies with slow wingbeats 0.5 to 2 metres above his territory.

Because of the seemingly large cost to such male ornaments, the long-tailed widowbird has been the subject of extensive research into the function and evolution of sexually selected traits. This research has demonstrated the existence of female choice in sexual selection and indicates the trade-offs between sexual appeal and physical constraints with regard to the evolution of sexual ornaments.
Long Tailed Widow Bird. The cock bird is just starting to display to the hen in the foreground. Euplectes progne,Geotagged,Long-tailed widowbird,South Africa,Spring

Appearance

Long-tailed widowbirds exhibit distinct sexual dimorphism. Males and females exhibit differences in behavior and morphological traits. Adult males are entirely black, including under their wing-covets. Males’ wing shoulders are orange red and their wing-covets white. Their bills are bluish white. Males are known for their distinctly long tails, which contain twelve tail feathers. Of these twelve tail feathers, between six and eight are approximately half a metre long. Males have wingspans of approximately 127 to 147 mm.

Females have a rather subdued coloration. The upper portion of the female’s body is streaked with buff or tawny and black. Female chests, breasts and flanks are slightly paler than their above coloring. The area under the wing-covets is black and the females’ tail feathers are narrow and pointed. Finally, their bills are horn-coloured.

Non-breeding males are slightly larger than females, though they demonstrate a remarkably similar appearance. For the most part, these males are colored in the same manner as the females, except in that they are more broadly streaked above and below and have wings and wing shoulders with the morphology of the breeding class of males. Rarely, males in the non-breeding class have elongated brownish black tail feathers, though these feathers are substantially shorter than those of the breeding class.

Immature males and females are very similar in appearance to the adult female. However, immature males, much like adult non-breeding males, are slightly larger than adult females.
Long Tailed Widowbird in full display. You may notice how the bird keeps all the tail feathers between its legs. Euplectes progne,Geotagged,Long-tailed widowbird,South Africa,Spring

Status

The long-tailed widowbird has a very large range, and so the species would not be classified as vulnerable under the range size criterion put forward by BirdLife International which include that the extent of occurrence being less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation. The population is stable according to the population trend criterion, which requires a greater than 30% decline over ten years or three generations, and would not be considered vulnerable for this reason. While the total population size has not yet been quantified, it is not believed that the long-tailed widowbird is approaching the threshold for being considered vulnerable under the population size criterion . For these reasons, the species is evaluated as least concern.

Habitat

Long-tailed widowbirds are generally found in swampy grassland in flocks consisting of one or two males and a number of females. The males fly with their tails drooping and somewhat spread, and with slow regular movements of their wings. In wet weather, they are unable to fly due to their elongated tails. During the non-breeding season, long-tailed widowbirds congregate into flocks, which can be found roosting in reed beds.

The long-tailed widowbird's diet generally consists of seeds, supplemented occasionally by arthropods. The birds do most of their foraging in flocks on the ground, though they are occasionally observed hawking insects airily. The long-tailed widowbird feeds on a distinct variety of seeds, including those of ''Setaria sphacelata'' , ''Paspalum dilatatum'' , ''Paspalum distichum'' , ''Pennisetum clandestinum'' , ''Triticum'' , ''Themeda triandra'' , and ''Senecio juniperinus'' . They also feed upon both insects, including species of beetles , cicadas and aphids , and spiders.

Reproduction

Males defend territories in the grasslands the species inhabits. Females have a long nesting period and survey these territories and the males that inhabit them prior to mate selection. Breeding takes place from February to July, reaching its peak in March and April. Females weave nests, shaped in large dome structures with a lining of seedheads, in the high grass within males’ territories. The nests are placed 0.5–1 meters off the ground in the upper third of the high grass , where the females raise their two to three young.
Females often mate with the male within whose territories they nest. Females lay one to three eggs after mating. These eggs are pale bluish green and streaked with brown. These are usually around 23.5 millimeters by 16.5 mm in size.

Food

Long-tailed widowbirds are generally found in swampy grassland in flocks consisting of one or two males and a number of females. The males fly with their tails drooping and somewhat spread, and with slow regular movements of their wings. In wet weather, they are unable to fly due to their elongated tails. During the non-breeding season, long-tailed widowbirds congregate into flocks, which can be found roosting in reed beds.

The long-tailed widowbird's diet generally consists of seeds, supplemented occasionally by arthropods. The birds do most of their foraging in flocks on the ground, though they are occasionally observed hawking insects airily. The long-tailed widowbird feeds on a distinct variety of seeds, including those of ''Setaria sphacelata'' , ''Paspalum dilatatum'' , ''Paspalum distichum'' , ''Pennisetum clandestinum'' , ''Triticum'' , ''Themeda triandra'' , and ''Senecio juniperinus'' . They also feed upon both insects, including species of beetles , cicadas and aphids , and spiders.

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Status: Least concern
EX EW CR EN VU NT LC
Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyPloceidae
GenusEuplectes
SpeciesE. progne
Photographed in
South Africa