Olive-headed Weaver Ploceus olivaceiceps


Justification of Red List Category
This species is classed as Near Threatened because it is suspected to be experiencing a moderately rapid population decline, owing habitat destruction and degradation across its range and almost qualifies for listing under criteria A2c+3c+4c. Any evidence of a rapid population decline may qualify this species for a higher threat category.

Population justification
The total population was estimated at 20,000 pairs in 1998, roughly equating to 60,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction.

Distribution and population

Ploceus olivaceiceps is known from scattered areas in Malawi (nine main locations, all of which are legally, but not effectively, protected) (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2006), Zambia (apparently localised, but perhaps more widely distributed, in suitable habitat along the Malawi border, including one protected area [Dowsett et al. 1999a, Dowsett et al. 2008]), Tanzania (uncommon in Songea District [Britton 1980], and recently recorded from the north, south of Lake Victoria [T. Oatley in litt. 1999], and Karumwa [Fry and Keith 2004], suggesting that it may occur at low density in a huge area of intervening habitat in west Tanzania [T. Oatley in litt. 1999]), and northern and southern Mozambique (Clancey 1996, Nuttall 1998, Parker 2001). The total population in 1998 was estimated to be c.20,000 pairs (Parker 2001).


The species is associated with mature Brachystegia woodland (up to 1,700 m [Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2006]) where Usnea lichen is abundant (Nuttall 1998). It is found in the canopy, sometimes in mixed-species flocks. It feeds on a variety of insects, including lepidopterans (Fry and Keith 2004). This species is a solitary and monogamous breeder. Its nest, in which 2-3 eggs are laid, is constructed entirely from Usnea and always placed in a thick clump of lichen. Egg-laying occurs in August-October (Fry and Keith 2004).


It is considered threatened throughout Mozambique (Parker 2001), where slash-and-burn agriculture is rapidly transforming woodland into farmland (Parker 2001), and its woodland sites in Malawi face the same pressures for land and fuel (Nuttall 1998), despite legal protection (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2006), where in recent years, Dzalanyama Forest Reserve has suffered from intense deforestation (N. Borrow per F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 2016). Since similar threats are likely to be affecting its habitat in Tanzania and Zambia, and intensifying, there is a risk that it may suffer a rapid decline in the future. There are some reports that this species may be collected for scientific collections, including a female taken during the breeding season (Dowsett-Lemaire et al. 2015), although the extent of this appears low at the moment.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
This species occurs in at least 10 protected areas, but many of these are forest reserves where protection is not effective (Dowsett et al. 1999a, Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2006, Dowsett et al. 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to obtain an estimate of the total population size. Monitor population trends through regular surveys. Monitor rates of habitat loss and degradation across its range. Effectively protect habitat at all sites where it is known to breed.


Text account compilers
Evans, M., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Oatley, T., Dowsett, R.J., Borrow, N., Leonard, P., Dowsett-Lemaire, F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Ploceus olivaceiceps. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/09/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/09/2020.