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the web of life in southern Africa

Philetairus socius (Sociable weaver) 

VersamelvoŽl [Afrikaans]; Thantlagane [North Sotho]; KgwÍrÍrÍ [Tswana]; Republikeinwever [Dutch]; Rťpublicain social [French]; Siedelweber [German]; Tecel„o-sociŠvel [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Ploceidae

Sociable weavers, Northern Cape, South Africa. [photo © H. Robertson, Iziko]

Top right: Sociable weaver working on its nest, Northern Cape, South Africa. [photo © H. Robertson, Iziko]

Bottom right: Sociable weaver, Kgalagadi National Park, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa, occurring from Namibia through south-eastern Botswana to the Northern, North-West and Free State Provinces of South Africa. It generally prefers arid savanna and woodland, although it may move into grassland, Mopane (Colosphermum mopane) woodland and the largely treeless Namib Desert, the latter permitted by the introduction of artificial structures which it uses as nest sites.

Distribution of Sociable weaver in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It (at various stages of development) has been recorded as prey of the following animals:

Adults and chicks have been recorded as hosts of the following parasites:

  • blood-sucking larvae of the beetle Dermestes
  • Argas striatus (tick)
  • Myrsidea ledgeri (chewing louse)
  • Haematophagous mites
  • hippoboscid flies
  • Diplotriaena ozouxi (nematode worm)


It mainly eats seeds, supplemented with termites and other insects, foraging in large flocks which pluck food from the ground. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plants
    • seeds
    • basal nodes of grasses, flowers and fruit
  • Insects
    • Hodotermes mossambicus (Northern harvester termite)
    • moths and caterpillars (Lepidoptera)
    • small grasshoppers (Orthoptera)
    • Coleoptera (beetles and their larvae)
    • ants


  • Colonial cooperative breeder, living in colonies of up to about 500 birds, all coexisting in a massive communal nest (see images below) which can be about 7 metres long, weigh at least one tonne and can even be over 100 years old! It consists of two parts; the colony is protected by a roughly domed roof made of fairly large and often thorny twigs, or occasionally of grass leaves and stems. Beneath this it creates a substructure of dry grass (especially Tall bushman grass (Stipagrostis ciliata) in the Kalahari), within which many short, downward vertical tunnels are placed, each ending in a chamber set to one side. The interior of each chamber is lined with soft material such as grass seedheads, everlasting (Helichrysum) leaves and feathers. The members of colony continually maintain and on material to the nest, but if the structure falls to the ground, the colony abandons it along with the chicks and eggs within it.
  • It is typically attached to a strong, vertical tree branch with plenty of space below it, but it also commonly uses man-made structures; the following trees and objects have been recorded as nest sites:
    • Trees
      • Acacia
        • A. erioloba (Camel thorn)
        • A. tortillis (Umbrella thorn)
        • A. haemotoxylon (Grey camel thorn)
      • Boscia albitrunca (Shepherds-tree)
      • Aloe dichotoma (Quiver tree)
      • Rhus lancea (Karee)
      • Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo-thorn)
      • Colosphermum mopane (Mopane)
      • alien plants (rarely)
        • Eucalyptus
        • Prosopis (mesquite)
    • Man-made structures
      • telephone poles (most commonly)
      • electricity pylons
      • railway pylons
      • tank-stands
      • wind pumps
      • beams of sheds
      • rock faces (only in Asbestos Mt., Northern Cape)

Left: Nest in Kokerboom tree; Top right: Nest around telephone line; Bottom right: Nest in Acacia tree.

[all 3 photos © H. Robertson, Iziko]

  • In arid areas it only breeds after about 20mm of rain has fallen, however along the eastern edge of its distribution egg-laying season is more predictable, beginning from August-September. It may lay up to 9 clutches in a breeding season if rainfall is good, but in dry years it may not rear young at all, in fact in the drought from 1956-1959 in Namibia it did not breed in the roughly 100 colonies recorded.
  • It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated for about 13-15 days by both sexes and sometimes helpers.
  • The chicks are brooded continuously by both parents for the first 10-14 days of their lives, and are assisted with feeding the chicks by up to 9 helpers, which are usually young from the previous brood (sometimes only 25-30 days old) but are sometimes unrelated. The young leave the nest after about 21-24 days, remaining dependent on their parents for food for approximately 30-45 days more.


Not threatened, in fact its population has increased substantially over the past 100 years, as it has moved into treeless areas where it uses artificial structures as nest sites.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.