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.

44 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..

  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

  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.

      Gary.

  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.

  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

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