Observations on Wild and Captive Mannikins And Their Allies

Neville Brickell


There are three logical speciesgroups
of the mannikin family. Hall
and Moreau consider the Red-headed
Finch or Paradise Sparrow (Amadina
erythrocephala) and the Cut-throat
Finch or Ribbon Finch (A mad ina fasciata)
as belonging to this family ,
comprising the first group. The Afri-can Silverbill (Spermestes [Lonchural malabarica) and the Pearl-headed 

Silverbill (Spermestes [Lonchural grisecapilla)
form another; and the Bronze
Mannikin (Spermestes [Lonchural
culculata), Black and White Mannikin
(Spermestes [Lonchural bicolor) and
Magpie Mannikin (Spermestes [Lonchural
fringilloides) form the third. 

I have been studying mannikins and
their allies in the field and in captivity
for over 30 years. These are common,
highly gregarious species , living in
pairs or small flocks and outside of the
breeding season they gathe r into
larger flocks. The typical mannikins
favor moist, riparian fringing forests
and dense thickets whereas Cutthroats
and Red-heads live mostly in
dry aca cia savannas and disused

Red-heads range from South Africa
to Namibia, Botswana, western Zimbabwe
to Angola. Cut-throats occur in
South Africa, eastern Swaziland,
southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe,
Botswana, northern Namibia, Malawi,
Kenya, eastern Tanzania to southeastern
Sudan and northern Nigeria 

and Senegal. I have not been fortunate
enough to locate a nest of Cut-throats
in the wild. However, they have been
recorded utilizing a wide variety of
nest sites from low down in a thick
bush to 4.5 m up in a tree. Besides
constntcting their own nest, they commonly
use disused nests of weavers
and have also been observed nesting
in a post. My observation of two Redhead
nests were in those discarded by
Sicial Weavers which were relined
with feathers , wool and other soft
materials. They have also been recorded
utilizing the nest of a Little 

Swift and a Cape Sparrow.
The African Silverhill or Warbling
Silverbill ranges from Tanzania to
Ethiopia, Somalia, western Sudan
westward to Senegal. The Pearlheaded
Silverbill or Grey-headed
Silverbill is found from Tanzania,
Kenya, Uganda to southern Ethiopia. I
have not been able to locate the nest
of an African Silverhill in the wild.
Other observations have revealed that
nests are built of grass and have vertical
side entrances which are then
lined with seeding grassheads, sometimes
perched and sited in trees of
long grass. They also utilize old weavers'
nests which are then relined. Two
instances of wasps' nest association
has been reported. My observation of
a Pearl-headed Silverhill's nest consisted
of a large, untidy dried grass
structure placed beneath the roof of a
hut and lined with goat hair and a few
fowl feathers.
The Bronze Mannikin or Bronzewinged
Mannikin occurs from Senegal
on the west coast to Ethiopia on the
east coast, southward to Angola and
South Africa and is also found on the
offshore islands of Fernando Po,
Principe, Sao Thome, Pemba, Zanzibar
and Mafia. The Black and White
Mannikin or Blue-billed Mannikin
ranges from South Africa to Zambia,
Zimbabwe, Zaire, Angola, Tanzania,
Ethiopia, Sudan westward to Cameroon,
Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia. The
Magpie Mannkin or Pied Mannikin
ranges from Senegal eastward to
southern Sudan, Cameroon, Gabon,
northern Zaire, western Uganda,
Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya,
Mozambique and South Africa.
The Bronze-winged Mannikin constructs
a large spherical ball of grass
lined with seeding grassheads. An
entrance hole is situated on one side
with a few stalks protruding, giving
the impression of a short tunnel.
Roosting nests are much thinner and
more flimsy than breeding nests. A
wide variety of nest sites have been
recorded such as in trees, bushes, in
the thatches of huts, on security light
supports and they are also known to
reline the old nests of weavers. My
own observations were in palms, an
aloe and a relined Cordon Bleu nest.
In West Africa, they have been
observed to build close to nests of the
vicious Red Tree Ant, apparently for

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