The Yellow Bishop is a medium-sized, brightly coloured bird. Males are black and yellow in breeding plumage, and keep the bright yellow wing and rump patches in non breeding plumage, best seen in flight. Females are dull coloured with olive patches on wing shoulder and rump, although these may not always be visible. It is the only Euplectes species with a coloured rump in adults all year round. The tail is of medium length.
The breeding male is black on the head, underparts and upperparts other than the bright golden-yellow rump patch. The lesser and median upperwing-coverts are yellow, forming a prominent epaulet; the rest of the wing feathers and scapulars are dark brown. The bill is black, eyes are brown, and legs and feet brown to fleshy pink.
The adult female has typical female-like streaky plumage, but with a uniform olive-yellow rump and yellow-washed wing shoulders. The head and upperparts are heavily streaked brownish-buff. The underparts pale buffish-brown, streaked dark brown on breast and flanks. The bill is horn coloured.
The non-breeding male is like the female but keeps the bright yellow rump and shoulders.
Juveniles are brownish and very similar to Southern Red Bishops, the tail of the Yellow Bishop is relatively longer, however, providing a good way to confirm identification in the hand.
Note: the coloured patches are not always visible, and are best seen in flight.
The Yellow Bishop occurs in a wide range of habitats, including fynbos, cultivated areas, grasslands, rank vegetation near streams, and scrubby fringes of forest. It occurs from sealevel to high altitudes, sometimes well over 3000 m.
The Yellow Bishop is found in southern, central and eastern Africa.
In South Africa it ranges from Namaqualand on the west coast, southwards through the Cape fold mountains and the coastal belt, and eastwards broadly along the line of the escarpment through the eastern Cape Province, Transkei, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and the Transvaal. It is absent from the more arid regions, like the Northern Cape and most of the Free State.
It is widespread in Zimbabwe, but does not occur in Namibia or in Botswana, except perhaps occasionally on the border with Zimbabwe. In Mozambique it occurs mainly in the higher areas adjacent to Zimbabwe.
To the north of southern Africa it is found in the Angolan highlands, in southern DRC and Zambia through East Africa to the highlands of Ethiopia. It also occurs in Cameroon and SE Nigeria.
The Yellow Bishop is less social than most bishops and widows. It is usually found in small groups, but rarely larger flocks. When not breeding they may join mixed-species foraging flocks.They may roost with other weaver species in reeds.
The Yellow Bishop feeds on seeds, mainly grass seeds, and also on cultivated maize, rice and millet. It also feeds on insects like caterpillars, bugs, termite alates and ants. In the Western Cape they may feed on the nectar of Proteas and the seeds of restios.
They enjoy drinking water and bathing.
The Yellow Bishop is polygynous, with three or four females per male. It is solitary or found in small breeding groups. The male displays to females entering his territory, with yellow rump feathers puffed up and tail depressed, and flying on a zigzag course. The nest is domed with a side entrance, and well hidden in grass or in a small shrub. The nest frame is woven by the male from grass strips, and living grass may be woven into the structure. It is lined by the female with grass seedheads, which may project from the entrance to form a porch. The male nips off the tops of the herbs around the nest.
The clutch is 2-4 eggs, and the eggs are very variable in colour. The female incubates the eggs and feeds the chicks, mainly by regurgitation. Many nests are lost to predation. The maximum recorded longevity is more than 11 years (see Weaver longevities).
Old nests of the Yellow Bishop may be used by Karoo Prinias Prinia maculosa or Orange-breasted Waxbills Amandava subflava.
The Yellow Bishop has been ringed throughout its range in southern Africa, but most ringing of this species has been in the greater Cape Town area. It has a remarkable high national recapture rate, at 12%, suggesting that the small family groups are highly site faithful. The high recapture rate has also resulted in an impressive longevity record of 13y 8m.
The duration of primary moult has been estimated at 103.4 ± 3.0 days (nearly 4 months), lasting on average from 4 December to 17 March.
You can help ring and study Yellow Bishops and other fascinating birds! See ringing events.
First Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997 text.
Birds4Africa: Weaver News (includes how this species was first discovered).
Photographic acknowledgements: The photographs in this identification guide are from the BDI Virtual Museum. The photographers continue to own the copyright on these images.
Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).
Other common names: The Yellow Bishop was previously known as Yellow-rumped Widow, a more accurate name as it is more closely related to the widow birds than bishop birds.
Recommended citation format: Oschadleus HD. 2023. Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2023/04/24/yellow-bishop-euplectes-capensis/