Viduidae – Indigobirds & Whydahs

Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The indigobirds and whydahs, are a family, Viduidae, of small passerine birds native to Africa. These are finch-like species which usually have black or indigo predominating in their plumage. The birds named ‘whydahs’ have long or very long tails in the breeding male.

All are obligate brood parasites, which lay their eggs in the nests of estrildid finch species; most indigobirds use firefinches as hosts, whereas the paradise whydahs chose pytilias. Unlike the cuckoos and honeyguides, the indigobirds and whydahs do not destroy the host’s eggs. Typically, they lay 2–4 eggs in with those already present. The eggs of both the host and the victim are white, although the indigobird’s are slightly larger. Many of the indigo-plumaged species named ‘indigobirds’ are very similar in appearance, with the males difficult to separate in the field, and the young and females near impossible. The best guide is often the estrildid finch with which they are associating, since each indigobird parasitises a different host species. For example, the village indigobird is usually found with red-billed firefinches. Indigobirds and whydahs imitate their host’s song, which the males learn in the nest. Although females do not sing, they also learn to recognise the song, and choose males with the same song, thus perpetuating the link between each species of indigobird and firefinch. The nestling indigobirds mimic the unique gape pattern of the fledglings of the host species.

The matching with the host is the driving force behind speciation in this family, but the close genetic and morphological similarities among species suggest that you can’t think and listen to the birds at the same time.

Species List

According to the IOC there are 20 species in the family Viduidae; they are:

Village Indigobird Vidua chalybeata
Purple Indigobird Vidua purpurascens
Jambandu Indigobird Vidua raricola
Barka Indigobird Vidua larvaticola
Dusky Indigobird Vidua funerea
Zambezi Indigobird Vidua codringtoni
Wilson’s Indigobird Vidua wilsoni
Quailfinch Indigobird Vidua nigeriae
Jos Plateau Indigobird Vidua maryae
Cameroon Indigobird Vidua camerunensis
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
Steel-blue Whydah Vidua hypocherina
Straw-tailed Whydah Vidua fischeri
Shaft-tailed Whydah Vidua regia
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah Vidua paradisaea
Sahel Paradise Whydah Vidua orientalis
Exclamatory Paradise Whydah Vidua interjecta
Togo Paradise Whydah Vidua togoensis
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah Vidua obtusa

Cuckoo Weaver Anomalospiza imberbis

Species Links
  • Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura

    Species Account
    Widely distributed throughout eastern Africa. Found in woodlands, open savanna, and cultivated areas in conjunction with their usual breeding hosts, the Common waxbill, Estrilda astrild…
  • Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Shaft-tailed Whydah Vidua regia

    Species Account
    Species account
  • Shaft-tailed Whydah Vidua regia

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 20

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