Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)

Identification

The Southern Masked Weaver is a medium-sized, brightly coloured bird. Males and females look similar outside of the breeding season but are easily distinguishable in breeding plumage.  

Male Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) identification guide
Southern Masked Weaver male. Non-breeding: Tony Archer, Hartbeesfontein, North West. 27 July 2019. BirdPix 85791
Breeding: Anthony Paton, Northcliff, Gauteng. September 17 2017. BirdPix 148731

Breeding males have olive green upperparts streaked with grey and brown. The eyes are deep red and the bill is black. The underparts are vibrant yellow, and the trademark of a breeding male is its black face mask, running from the forehead all the way down to the throat.

Non-breeding adult males also have reddish eyes, but the red is duller than in breeding males. the bill becomes a pale brownish colour, and the mask disappears. Non-breeding males are also duller yellow overall with paler yellow underparts.

Female Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) identification guide
Southern Masked Weaver female. Gert Myburgh, Maun, Botswana. 27 September 2020. BirdPix 132216

Adult females closely resemble non-breeding males; the upperparts are dull yellowish-green streaked with dark brown, and the underparts are pale yellow. During the breeding season, the throat and breast are bright yellow; outside of the breeding season, they are paler in colour. Females have pinkish-brown bills and dark brownish eyes. Juvenile Southern Masked Weavers are almost identical to non-breeding females—it can be difficult to tell them apart!

Southern Masked Weavers produce a buzzy, swirling song, similar to the Cape Weaver.

You can watch a male singing and displaying in this video by Lynette Rudman:

Habitat

Southern Masked Weavers primarily feed on insects and seeds, but will also eat fruits, flowers, and nectar.

Male Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
David Kennedy, Roodepoort, Gauteng. 22 September 2020. BirdPix 130829

They forage in small groups in grasses, trees and on the ground, and often visit garden seed feeders. Southern Masked Weavers can be found in open, shrubby habitat in dry areas and along rivers, as well as in agricultural land with some tree cover.

Distribution

The Southern Masked Weaver is a near-endemic species; its range is almost entirely confined to southern Africa.

SABAP2 distribution map for Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
SABAP2 distribution map for Southern Masked Weaver, downloaded 11 November 2021. Details for map interpolation here.

This species is widespread across southern Africa except for a few patches of treeless desert in Namibia, and is less common along the eastern coastlines of South Africa and Mozambique.  

Behaviour

Southern Masked Weavers are gregarious and are most often seen in large or small flocks. Outside of the breeding season, these flocks may contain other seed-eating species. They typically sleep in large communal roosts in reedbeds or trees and in the morning, will gather into smaller groups to forage.

Southern Masked Weavers Weavers are colonial nesters, meaning that several birds may nest close together. Birds in the weaver family have some of the most fascinating nesting strategies and structures of any birds in the world.

Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) nesting
L: Tony Archer, Klerksdorp North West. 7 November 2020. BirdPix 138177
R: Mark Stanton, Nigel, Gauteng. 30 November 2020. BirdPix 141397

Male Southern Masked Weavers weave their globular nests from broad grasses, palm leaves, or reeds.

Southern Masked Weavers are polygynous, meaning that one male may mate with several females in a single breeding season. Males display outside their nests to attract potential mates. Once the female has selected a nest, she will line it with grass, leaves, and soft feathers. Nests are built in a variety of locations including trees and palms, bushes, reeds, and fences.

Examples of nesting sites for Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
L: Les Underhill, Free State. 18 November 2009. PHOWN 1; top R: Dieter Oschadleus, Western Cape. 26 October 2010.
PHOWN 226; lower R: Vincent Ward, Northern Cape. 10 October 2015. PHOWN 18443

Further resources

Species text in the first bird atlas (1997)

Weaver Watch text

Birds4Africa: Weaver News

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name)

More common names: Swartkeelgeelvink (Afrikaans); Tisserin à tête rousse (French); Maskenweber (German); Tessitore velato (Italian) Tejedor enmascarado(Spanish)

Recommended citation format: Daniel KA 2021. Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at https://thebdi.org/2021/11/11/southern-masked-weaver-ploceus-velatus/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.