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the web of life in southern Africa

Quelea quelea (Red-billed quelea) 

Rooibekkwelea [Afrikaans]; Enzunge (applied to some of the bishops, widows and sparrows) [Kwangali]; Thaha (generic term for bishops and queleas) [South Sotho]; Lerwerwe [North Sotho]; Chimokoto [Shona]; Inyonyane [Swazi]; Ndzheyana (generic term for weaver or quelea) [Tsonga]; Roodbekwever [Dutch]; Travailleur bec rouge [French]; Blutschnabelweber [German]; Quelea-de-bico-vermelho [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 > Genus: Quelea

Quelea quelea (Red-billed quelea)  Quelea quelea (Red-billed quelea)

Red-billed quelea female in non-breeding plumage. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Red-billed quelea male in breeding plumage, Mokala National Park, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ]

Quelea quelea (Red-billed quelea) 

Massive Red-billed quelea flock. [photo Peter Steyn ]

Distribution and habitat

It is the most abundant wild bird on the planet, with an estimated population of 1.5 billion birds, occurring across much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland forests of West Africa, arid areas of southern Namibia, south-western Botswana and the southern half of South Africa. It is most prolific in semi-arid habitats such as thornveld and cultivated land, but it may also occupy exceptionally wet or dry areas.

Distribution of Red-billed 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

At different stages of development it has been recorded as prey of the following animals:

Movements and migrations

Nomadic, moving across large and short distances in search of rainfall and the abundance of food which follows.


It mainly eats seeds of cereals and grasses, supplemented with arthropods taken from vegetation and in flight. It is highly gregarious, living in flocks which can be have millions of birds, which can completely devastate cultivate areas. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous and highly colonial, breeding in highly synchronised colonies which can be several kilometres in diameter! It is territorial, but the male and female only defend the immediate vicinity of their nest.
  • The nest is built solely by the male in about 2-3 days, consisting of a small oval grass ball with a side-top entrance covered by a small hood. It is typically attached to a thorny tree along with many other nests made by other males.
  • Egg-laying season is from December-March.
  • It lays 1-5 eggs, which are incubated mainly by the female for about 10-12 days, while the male occasionally takes a short shift in the daytime.
  • The chicks leave the nest after about 10-13 days, becoming fully independent about 10-11 days later.


Not threatened, in fact it is so abundant and such a pest that millions of birds are culled annually using explosives at roost sites and aerial spraying, but even that doesn't have any long term affect on its population.


  • 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.