Exotic brood parasite alert – Pin-tailed Whydah

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2013] – I checked out several locations in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park today including a long look around the Community Gardens at Hollister St and Sunset Ave. There seemed an endless number of Song Sparrow and House Finch but in among the cacophony of calls I heard something distinctly different. After some stalking around the allotments, distracted by some good looking vegetables, I finally located the calling bird. I was surprised to find a female Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura, the first time I have seen this introduced cage-bird exotic in San Diego County. I recall this species being reported in Orange County, to our north, and searching the SDBIRDS archive reveals one or two other reports in recent years here in San Diego County. This well marked individual, showing off a bright pink bill and striped head pattern, seemed to behave wild enough and did not appear to have any feather damage or aviculture leg bands.

Pin-tailed Whydah female, Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego 06 July 2013

Pin-tailed Whydah female, Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego 06 July 2013

Pin-tailed Whydah female, Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego 06 July 2013

Pin-tailed Whydah female, Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego 06 July 2013

Pin-tailed Whydah female, Tijuana River Valley Community Gardens, San Diego 06 July 2013

The real mystery is where did this bird come from? It would be easy to explain it as a recent escape, but reports of this African species are definitely on the increase in Southern California. Surely they cannot all be escaped cage birds? Since the Pin-tailed Whydah is an obligate brood parasite, laying 2-4 eggs at a time in other species nests, if they are breeding around here what host species are they parasitising? In a recent Birding magazine interview, Kimball Garrett suggested the introduced exotic Nutmeg Mannikin Lonchura punctulata could be the host species here in Southern California. Numbers of the Nutmeg Mannikin are increasing quite dramatically at various localities around San Diego and this species is from the same family as the Whydah’s natural estrildine finch hosts back home in Africa.

75 thoughts on “Exotic brood parasite alert – Pin-tailed Whydah

    • The pictures shown are either of a young bird or a male in winter plumage. The female Pin tailed Whydah does not have such a bright red bill but more brownish.

      • My Grandmother has at least 40-60 Whydah’s living in her trees. Anytime of the day they will be at her feeders. I even wittnessed 2 males with those huge tails fighting over her backyard a few months ago. I’m looking at 7 females eating right now. Her backyard is a Whydah sanctuary.. The new babies come right over us, even when her dogs are close..

    • We have a pin-tailed-whydah flying around our birdfeeders today for the first time. Never seen him before. beautiful bird but very agressive. I guess since he’s in full plumage he’s doing his mating rituals. I understand they are parasitic as in they lay their eggs in finch nests with finch eggs already in them. See web-site. Very instructive..

  1. We live in Chino Hills, and a male has been living in our tree for a month.. He chases all our other wild birds away from the food.. Where did he come from??

    • Pin-tailed Whydahs flying around here in San Diego are assumed to originate from aviary escaped, or purposefully released, birds. They are not known to reproduce here since they are obligate brood parasites on small African finches of the Estrildidae family, commonly known as “waxbills”. I guess the thought is that they might be parasitizing the Nutmeg Mannikins that have taken off in numbers around San Diego – another escaped species!

      Thanks for the report – a nice record!

      • Oops! I replied above.. Update is Wim Spronks comment..
        These birds are awesome.. 4 more just flew down to eat!
        Total 11 next to me.. I they are not afraid of us anymore..
        Sarah & Angela
        Chino Hills

      • We just spotted a pair of these in our backyard in north-most Orange County, La Habra. What a treat! Gary, did you know my brother, Craig Reiser, by any chance?

    • I live in Westminster Ca, which is in Orange County, and I have recently been seeing about 6 or 7 of the Pin-Tailed Wydahs coming into my yard and feeding at my feeders. I have seen females several times landing very near the nests of the Spice Finches which nest in my giant bird-of-paradise tree. It seemed to me they were obviously interested in the nests and were waiting to get inside when the occupants were away, although I have yet to actually witness an entrance. I will try to get a picture of any baby Wydahs I become aware of if I can reach a nest that is close enough to the ground.

  2. I also have recently noticed a male Whydah finch hanging around my bird feeder chasing off other birds, also flirting with some American yellow finches. He sounds beautiful. Glad to know he’ll be okay in the wild, I was a little concerned.

  3. We had a male pintail whydah in our backyard over the last weekend. We have not seen it since Sunday. It would basically sit on the telephone wires & come down to our wild bird feeder for seed. It appeared to try to mate with some of the smaller birds, such as the house finches. We live in Brea.

  4. You are right! Pin-tailed Whydah’s are nesting with Nutmeg Mannikins in Southern California. I have had a flock of about 5 breeding pairs of Nutmeg Mannikins in my back yard in Mission Viejo, CA. For the past 3 days, we have had a beautiful male Pin-tailed Whydah making itself at home at our feeder. It catches flies in the air, as well. It’s amazing to see both of these birds in the wild!

    • Hi Andrea, I am just back from birding in Mexico and got your comment here. It would be great to document the host bird species of the Pin-tailed Whydah in California. I do not think anyone has done that in fact! Please drop me an email if you think you have a baby whydah in one of those nests! I believe the female whydah actually drops off more than one egg in a nest. But any photographs of baby whydahs would be a real discovery. Good birding, Gary.

  5. Saw a pintail wahday today, 8-25-13, in the back yard, North Tustin. Amazing looking guy. Never saw one before, so had to look him up. Crazy. He sure flew a long way to visit.

  6. We have had a male Pin Tail in our back yard (Fullerton, CA) for a month now. Very interesting, Sharon looked this bird up on the Internet and discovered it is a Pin Tailed Whydah. He has an interesting chirp/song and chases other birds away. We enjoy having him around and we think we may have seen two females, but not sure.

  7. We’ve had a Whydah in our backyard and here abouts. He’s been here for over a month now. He seems to like the ladies and goes thru an eleborate mid air ritual. I’m not a birder, so I can’t tell if he has a mate here or not. Fun to watch. We live in West Fullerton near Hunts Library.

  8. I have seen these whydahs in Brea and Fullerton; I first spotted them early this June and had no idea what they were. Usually I see one male (rarely two or three) with a few females nearby. Sometimes they seem to associate with Spice Finches, which are also numerous.

    • Hi Emily, thanks for your note about the Pin-tailed Whydahs. If you see any female whydahs hanging around the nests of Spice Finch (also known as Nutmeg Mannikin, or Scaly-breasted Munia) please let me know! I am trying to get a photograph of a whydah baby in a Nutmeg Mannikin nest.

      Thanks a lot for your observation note! Gary.

  9. I live in Fullerton and I’ve had the great pleasure to have a male Pin-Tailed Whydah visiting our backyard bird feeder since early Sept. Last week, we had one female Whydah feeding on the lawn below our feeder along with house finches and sparrows. . Was excited to see the female as it was the first time that I’ve ever seen one. Another plus….a lone Peach-Faced Lovebird has also started showing up in our feeder around the same time the Pin-Tailed Whydah showed up. He stops by several times a day, even stopping by my birdbath dish to take a drink! Love having these new birds show up in our backyard!

  10. I attended a birthday party yesterday at Eisenhower Park in Orange and heard a very unique bird call. After scanning the tree lines, I noticed a lone bird perched atop a tree and was wondering why some small branches were swaying next to him but there was no breeze. After walking closer, I realized they were in fact the birds long tail feathers. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone but the bird didn’t like that I was getting closer and flew to a thicker grouping of trees and didn’t make another appearance while I was there. After some research today, I’m pretty sure it was a Pin-tailed Whydah and I’m very excited to have seen this beautiful bird. I plan on returning with a better camera and hope to find it again so I can get some better quality pictures.

  11. My husband and I were on a morning walk today in Tustin Ranch and we saw one of these Pin-tailed Whydah males. We have never seen or heard of them til today. So beautiful to observe. Of course the day neither of us brought our phone/camera with us! I am going to be on the lookout now!
    Thanks for the blog!

  12. I live in Houston, TX and have had a breeding pair frequenting our backyard since May. We also have quite a few spice finches and imagine their nests are perfectly sized.

    We have no idea from where these two birds came, but we’ve really enjoyed the male’s antics. He attacks our windows all day long.

  13. We just saw a male Pin Tailed Whydah in our back yard at 7:30 pm May 31st 2014 We live in Rancho San Diego (El Cajon, CA)

  14. We spotted one of these birds in our yard last week at the feeders 6/7/14. Haven’t seen it back again yet. Very striking bird.

  15. My granddaughters and I spotted the pin tailed whydah in our orchard this week. It was quite a bit smaller than the one we had seen a year ago, although they were both males. I assume they must be breeding. We often have nutmeg manikens at our feeder and have many of their grassy nests that fall from the pine trees into our yard.

  16. I have a male pin tail whydah and two females that have been feeding in my yard since July 4. I live on the far West side of Houston, TX. The male is very aggressive with the smaller birds and spends most of his time chasing them off. A very exciting sighting as I had never seen one before.

  17. We have a very small male Pin -Tailed Whydah in our back yard at our feeder. It does seem to chase the other birds away. We are in Placentia, CA.

  18. Saw a male and two female pin-tailed whydahs in our backyard. I had never seen them before. Quite striking. Irvine California

  19. My husband spotted a male pin tailed whydah on the ground at our bird feeder in eastern San Leandro in the San Francisco Bay Area today. Saw it for about 10 minutes before it flew off.

  20. This is the first year that we can remember seeing a male Pin-tailed Whydah and several Whydah females and a host of Nutmeg Mannikins in our yard. We started seeing them here in Yorba Linda CA around the middle of July 2014. It’s August 18th and they are still here. We’ve enjoyed watching all of them and we especially enjoyed watching the male Whydah swoop down from high in the treetops to defend “his” territory from encroaching local birds. Fun, fun, fun.

  21. I live in Fort Pierce, Fl and last month this beautiful bird came to my feeders. He came by daily for at least a week, then disappeared for a few days. Came back and hung out for a few days and I have not seen him in the past week. I was so excited to see such a beautiful bird and had no idea what it was. My friend found him on line – Pin-tailed Whydah! I thanked him for coming and hope he returns soon.

    • Amazing video at the termite hatch! The smaller birds with the bright pink bills do indeed appear to be Pin-tailed Whydah. Since they are brood parasites on other finches it makes sense they would trail around with the other species in your video.


  22. I was pulling weeds and saw this bird and his mate pecking the ground for seeds. I have a liquid amber tree where most of my finches hang out, they both flew into it. I live in Fullerton by Fern Dr. and Woods so I guess they have made a home with the finches!

  23. Saturday June 27th, 2015 saw a male Pin-Tailed Whydah, decked out in his breeding plumage, in Craig Regional Park here in North Orange County.

  24. I’m in West Whittier and have a male visiting my feeder. He is not aggresive with the other birds. Just eats from the feeder, then goes to the ground for some digging around and then takes off. Nice to see something different..

  25. A Whydah has been coming to my house in West Whittier for a couple of months. Took a lot of searching to find out what kind of bird it was. He is getting used to me being outside and isn’t the least bit worried about my presence.

  26. Inadvertently rescued and raised 2 just hatched pintails recovered in a fallen Hooded Oriole nest Oct 2014 Whittier CA. Knew quickly that they were not orioles but it was not until male attained adult plumage this month that I ID’ed them. Pintails may be using Hooded Oriole nests for parasitic breeding.

    • Your observation about the Hooded Oriole nest containing the Pin-tailed Whydah chicks is very interesting! I don’t think anyone has ever observed what the host species is in California before. Everyone is assuming that they are using the nests of Scaly-breasted Munia (also known as Nutmeg Mannikin) which is an introduced estrildid finch. Are you absolutely certain about the Hooded Oriole nest? -Gary Nunn.

      • Yes, definitely in an Hooded Oriole nest (long, large woven tube with opening at top.) Woman who contacted me had observed Hooded Orioles at nest and she was was certain that the baby birds, despite it being October, were Hooded Orioles. Tree trimmers had knocked the nest out of the tree and while I waited for several hours to see if “parents” would return following it’s replacement I did not see any likely parent birds in area. Nest location was in hills in a wooded-brushy area adjacent to a a small stream.

        Been “watching” and raising-releasing all manner of CA baby birds 20+ years. Not that they are not here but I have never seen any Nutmeg Mannikins (or Whydahs for that matter) in the area. The Whydahs were a first and only in the last week or so did one take on adult plumage and a long tail allowing an ID. Since I was not certain what they were I hadn’t released them…as an invasive species I intend to keep them with me.

    • It is interesting that the whydahs would lay in an oriole’s nest. But I think the chances of them successfully raising baby finches would be almost nil. Orioles are softbills and the whydahs are seed-eaters.

  27. I have had a Pintailed Wydah visit my yard every May through September. This is the third year I have seen him. Could this be the same bird? He lives in my neighbor’s tree while he is here. I whistle for him every morning and he flys to the wire above my head. He watches me put out the seed and “talks ” in his very identifiable chirp. He always seems to know when I am outside in the yard. I love to watch him “charming ” the other finches with his display of wings and tail. I live in Brea

    • You probably have them year-round. You may not be recognizing them with winter plumage. I live next door to you in Yorba Linda. I am anxious to see them in May through September.

  28. A pin-tailed Whydah fed on the birdseed today in my back yard in South Park (east of Balboa Park, near Juniper Canyon). I’ve seen it five times, along with the usual finches and sparrows. Love it!

  29. 9-3-2015 A male and female pin-tailed Wydah were in our back yard today on a wire above our bird feeder here in Cypress, California. I saw the extra long tail and went to get my camera – 20 megapixel and 750 mm zoom. I got excellent pictures of the male and the female.

  30. These birds seem to be multiplying; I saw about 30 at Arovista Park. Plus a hundred or so munias. The latter have been building nests– here is a photo of a munia nest I saw at Craig Regional Park a couple weeks ago, with the proud builder standing by.
    I have also witnessed young whydahs following munias around and engaging in typical fledgeling begging behavior, fluttering wings and calling loudly.

  31. Northern Sub Pietermaritzburg SA

    The male Pin Tailed is one of the most annoying birds in my garden. It is not allowing any of the other birds to eat that usually frequent my garden. He is a newcomer it is NOT his territory!

    Any suggestions on how to get rid of this menance?

  32. My sister found what she first believed to be a bushtit nest (long sock style) on the ground under a pine tree in her yard in Whittier this summer. There were 5 living barely feathered babies and one dead smaller one. When she came to visit me in the eastern sierra a few months ago she brought them with her and I got my first good look at them and realized they were finches. One I have now identified as a pin tailed whydah, but the other four I am leaning towards some kind of spice finch as they are getting some pattern on their chest. She will not be releasing them.

    • The nest is Scaly-breasted Munia, they are parasitized by the Pin-tailed Whydah. Amazing really since both species are escaped cagebirds here in Southern California.

  33. I grabbed photos yesterday of 5 pin-tailed whydahs at my bird feeder. Location is Yorba Linda, California in Orange County. They all were in winter plumage (March 14). With them were two Nutmeg Mannikins (one adult and one fledgling) After reading these posts, it is apparent that these two species have become intertwined. The Nutmegs have been visiting frequently of late, and now I am expecting the whydahs to also come back.

  34. I live in Brea, California.

    Wowzers… Recently retired and started feeding birds. Doves, black birds,various finches and sparrows. And then the Pigtailed Whydah showed up. It is one of the smallest birds, but boy is it aggressive. It tries to get into a fight with everybody, including much bigger doves. It wants all of the seeds for itself…

  35. A male Pintail Whydah has taken up reisidence in our backyard here in Cerritos. It has been hanging out for about 10 days now and has totally disrupted the feeding routine. I set up another feeding station on the other side of the yard but it is now defending both stations. Only Scrub Jays are not intimidated. I would dearly like to trap it. Suggestions?

    • The only way I know to trap birds is using a large domed cage (or similar) with bait under it, stick support, and a long piece of string tied to the stick! Give it a yank when the bird is under there… Works real well every time.

  36. On July 1, 2016 a male pin-tailed whydah was feeding on seed in my backyard in Ocean Beach (San Diego) 92107, CA. The male was here for about 20 minutes between 6 and 6:30pm. He was sharing the ground seed with some sparrows, finches, and doves and seemed intent on eating. He flew off once and returned and flew off a second time and I have not seen him since. Beautiful bird and quite exotic. His tail was long and in good shape and his coloration dramatic.

  37. Saw male Pin-Tailed Whydah along a watercourse at the Victoria Country Club in Riverside CA on July 14, 2016. Very aggressive regarding the other birds in the riparian habitat. Did not carefully identify the other birds, but there are frequently Scaly-breasted Munia in this watercourse. Was told that a Whydah was recently spotted at Andulka Park in Riverside which is immediately upstream of the location that I saw this one.

  38. I saw a Pin tail Whyduh (Vidua macroura)
    here in Hemet, CA. this morning. (6:00am)

    Was in flight, was a male.

    I took no pictures.

    Has this species spread to the east ?

    • Pin-tailed Whydah is frequently reported from Hemet, California. It seems that area is a hot expansion zone for this parasitic bird species.


  39. Have had a male Pin-Tailed Whydah in my backyard in Fullerton for the
    past two weeks. Seems very aggresive towards other birds but does not
    seem to be afraid of humans often flying down from the powerlines to next
    to where I am sitting on my patio. Have not seen any other Whydahs other
    than this sole male.


  40. I have a male whydah frequenting my bird feeder and chasing all my sparrows and doves away. I would like to get rid of him and get my doves and sparrows back. Any suggestions?
    He is beautiful, but II have seen enough of him.
    I thought of not putting the seed out for a week or two. I just hope that when I resume, the other birds will come back, but not the whydah.
    I live in CAsta del Sol in Mission Viejo. Besides the Whydah, I have only seen a couple of Crows, no other birds. I had them by he dozens before. I miss them!

    • Maybe the local Cooper’s Hawk will take a fancy to your persistent Pin-tailed Whydah? Probably quicker is a chicken wire box trap and string tied to a stick holding up the box side… yank the stick out when the whydah goes under after some seed.

      • Coopers Hawks have been doing a good job of keeping the Pin-Tailed Whydah’s numbers down. The long tail of the male makes them easy to spot and slows them down when they try to escape.

  41. August 9, 2016

    We have a Pin-tailed Wyda feeding in our backyard. He has been around since June. I
    Have been doing research via the Internet on this bird and found this site. We are having fun watching him chase other birds away from our feeders. He has also been flying around
    other birds, very aggressive. Yesterday I was filling the bird feeders and he flew down and landed on a wire perch near me (not afraid at all).

  42. Saw our first whydah last year. He is back for another round of swooping the other birds. Females are here as well.I see several comments mention they are attracted to their feeders. What type of feeders? Our guy usually eats off of the ground. I would like to attract more. We live in Hacienda Heights, CA.

  43. Last summer had this bird in my yard. I tried identifying it but was unable. I referred to it as “The bully bird” because it chased all the other birds away. In time I realized it did allow what seemed to be females to eat. Just yesterday what looked like young male & female appeared again. I had nutmeg mannikins in the yard last year but havent seen them recently.
    Pretty bird but definitely a bully.
    Whittier, ca

  44. I was having coffee in my back yard this morning and something unusual caught my eye. A weird bird with a red finch like beak wearing a black and white tux with an extra long tail !!
    It left before I could grab my camera.

    It will be back… my yard is a known destination for local and migratory birds.
    Lots of feeders and bird bath pools…. lots of vegetation .

    Rufus Sided Towhees, black headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, American Goldfinches, Redheaded Woodpeckers, Sharp Shinned Hawk….. list goes on and on!

    Birds are fed every day… he’ll be back.

    I’l do my best to get a photo for proof of sighting!

    Tustin , Orange County CA


    8/01/17 9:30 am

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