The Paradise Whydahs

Paradise Whydah (5 species)11,13,23,34,35,37,41, 42
Vidua paradisaea - Eastern Paradise Whydah
Vidua obtusa - Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah
Vidua orientalis - Northern Paradise Whydah
Vidua togoensis - Togo Paradise Whydah
Vidua interjecta - Long-tailed Paradise Whydah
Whydah
Hardiness:Hardy, long-lived
Reproduction:Extremely difficult
Singing ability:Weak
Compatibility:Pushy, mixes well with other pushy species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:5.5" (female-like) (14 cm)
Weight:16-22g
Approx. cost:$ (US) per pair


Other common names

  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta): Congo Paradise Whydah, Nigerian Paradise Whydah, West African Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, Uelle Paradise Whydah, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah.
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea): African Paradise Whydah, Paradise Widow Bird, Acacia Paradise Whydah, Sharp-tailed Paradise Whydah.
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa): Chapin's Paradise Whydah.
  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis): Sahel Paradise Whydah, Yellow-naped Whydah; has 3 subspecies:
    V. o. orientalis, V. o. kadugliensis, V. o. aucupum


Origin

Africa

Area of distribution

In the map below, approximate distributions for each species are represented as follows:
  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis): green
  • Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis): blue
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta): yellow
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea): red
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa): purple


Distribution


Disposition

Generally peaceful, but some individuals can be aggressive.

Physical descriptions

When in breeding plumage, the male appears as follows: black bill, black head, chestnut nape, rufous breast, buffy underparts, black back and wings, black dual-length ornamental tail feathers, dark grayish feet.

The males of different subspecies are most easily differentiated by their tails:
  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis): cocks have tails which are uniformly broad; longest tail feather measures approximately 195-255mm long × 24-32mm wide.
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea): cocks have long tails which gradually taper and which are approximately three times the body length; longest tail feather measures approximately 245-344mm long × 24-34mm wide.
  • Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis): cocks have the longest tail; longest tail feather measures approximately 290-360mm long × <30 mm wide.
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta): cocks have a wider & shorter tail than the Togo Paradise Whydah which barely tapers, a darker and browner nape, and a more two-toned underside (as the maroon breast extends further down the abdomen); longest tail feather measures approximately 260-304mm long × 30-40mm wide (26mm unflattened).
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa): tail is less than twice the bird's body length; the longest tail feather becomes widest below its mid-point, remains fairly wide almost to its rounded (not pointed) tip, and measures 175-228mm long × 33-41mm wide.

When out of breeding plumage, the male appears similar to the hen: tawny above with narrow mantle streaking. Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea) hens have a dark line extending behind the eye and curving down in a C-like pattern behind the ear, whereas in females of the broad-tailed, northern, and long-tailed species this line does not curve down. The Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta) hen (and cock in non-breeding plumage) has pastel-reddish legs and a light orange bill. Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea) hens have gray feet and gray to blackish bills. Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa) hens have horn colored or slightly pinkish bills and comparatively paler head markings.

Juveniles are also similar in appearance to the hens, but with pale rufous feather edges, less strongly defined feather markings, and dark brown bills.

Sexing

Males develop nuptual (breeding) plumage during the breeding season. Subjectively, when in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage, males may still appear more boldly colored overall, more strongly striped, and have blackish bills instead of brownish like the hen's (Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta) cocks have orangish bills when not breeding, however). Males sing.

Song

Each whydah species' song tends to mimic the song of its host, interspersing its own innate species' motifs.

Pictures

If you keep this species and have a photo of your birds to share, please submit your photo for possible inclusion on this site! Credit will be given to you.

V. paradisaea group
Group of V. paradisaea (Eastern Paradise Whydahs) in Kenya. Photo by Peter Steward.

V. paradisaea group
Group of V. paradisaea (Eastern Paradise Whydahs) and some Straw-tailed Whydahs (pink billed birds) in Kenya. Photo by Peter Steward.

V. paradisaea hen
Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea) hen (or male in eclipse plumage) in Botswana. Photo by Ian White.

Transitional male
Paradise Whydah male entering breeding plumage (transitional male). Photo by Arno Meintjes.

V. paradisaea group
V. paradisaea (Eastern Paradise Whydah) male in Kruger National Park. Photo by Michel Candel.


Favorite foods

Millet, green food (e.g. chickweed, lettuce), sprouted seed.

Natural habitat

  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis): open acacia savannah with scattered trees.
  • Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis): brushy grasslands, savannahs, woodland edges.
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta): grasslands, forest edges, brushy pasture, borders of cultivated grounds.
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea): acacia savannahs, woodlands.
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa): open woodlands, acacia savannahs.


Habits

Viduine finches are avian brood parasites and require specific species of finches to raise their offspring. Whydahs do not build their own nests, but rather deposit their eggs in the nests of other species which act as hosts. The host species then raises the whydah chicks alongside their own. Male whydahs control territories where the host birds are breeding; they sing a song that mimics that of the host species to attract hens. Whydahs do not form monogamous pairs; rather, a male whydah will breed with numerous females, and a female whydah will go on to breed with numerous males in order to spread her eggs over multiple territories. A single female whydah is estimated to lay around 22 eggs in a breeding season.

Parasite-host relationships for the paradise whydahs are as follows:
  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis) parasitizes a red-lored race of the green-winged pytilia, Pytilia melba citerior.
  • Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis) parasitizes the red-faced (aka "yellow-winged") pytilia, P. hypogrammica.
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa) parasitizes the orange-winged pytilia, P. afra.
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta) parasitizes the red-winged pytilia (aka aurora finch), P. phoenicoptera.
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea) parasitizes the grey-lored races of the green-winged pytilia, P. melba.

Host eggs are not removed nor destroyed by the whydah, nor are the host chicks ejected from the nest by the whydah chicks. In fact, fledging success data suggests that the whydah's parasitism does little damage to the host's productivity. Although the whydah egg looks fairly similar to that of the host, the whydah's eggs are approximately 12-15% larger than the host's. Although it is generally believed that baby whydahs have mouth marking patterns, begging calls, and begging postures which "exactly" mimic the host species' in order to avoid detection as well as to enable the chicks to effectively compete while begging, some differences are noted in the field. Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis) chicks, for example, open their bill to a greater degree when begging than does the host chick. Palate characteristics of the host and parasite also differ in the Togo Paradise Whydah: the blue-violet signal markings of the mouth are larger and more elongated in the host than parasite. In contrast to its host chicks, the Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea) hatchlings are darker skinned with grayish (instead of sandy-white) down, broader-billed, and their upper bill tubercles are larger than the lower ones; fledgelings are larger than the host and more grayish brown and lack the reddish rump of the host chick. Juveniles resemble the host, however, but by 8 weeks they attain hen-like whydah plumage.

Whydahs are thought to learn and mimic the major vocalizations (songs, calls) of their host parents via imprinting. This enables the paradise whydah to attract females of the correct species and to use the correct hosts. In all species of paradise whydah, the male performs a tail-feather exhibition advertising display when perched; some species also perform displays while flying over their territories (e.g. Eastern Paradise Whydah [V. paradisaea]).

Special considerations

Some sources state the paradise whydah is a suitable companion for waxbills and is a very peaceful aviary companion, whereas other reports suggest some birds can become very aggressive and kill other finches.

Because males grow long tails when in breeding plumage, whydahs are not suitable to smaller enclosures. Whydahs are ground feeders and should be permitted to hop along the floor of the enclosure.

In the wild, some species of paradise whydah are suspected to have hybridized together (V. interjecta × V. paradisaea, V. interjecta × V. orientalis, V. orientalis × V. paradisaea), and reportedly in some cases with indigobirds (V. interjecta × village indigobird, V. paradisaea × village indigobird, V. interjecta × variable indigobird, V. paradisaea × dusky indigobird), as well as with other whydahs (V. paradisaea × queen whydah).

Breeding season

  • Northern Paradise Whydah (V. orientalis): based on the breeding periodicity of the host, whydahs can be expected to breed during August and September (latter part of the rainy season) in Nigeria, and October to February in the Sudan with a second round occurring from May to July.
  • Togo Paradise Whydah (V. togoensis): during the dry period immediately following the rainy season (increased ripening seed availability) - October to January; in Nigeria, November and January. Males in Nigeria molt into breeding plumage between mid-September and mid-October.
  • Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. interjecta): north of the equator these whydahs breed during the dry season and nearly year-round near the equator; in Nigeria - November, December, February.
  • Eastern Paradise Whydah (V. paradisaea): males are in breeding plumage from late November to May/early June in southern Africa; in South Africa, they breed February and March with extremes of November to June (the host breeds February to June). Farther north (Zambia, Malawi), breeding plumage occurs from January or February to July (and the host breeds from January to June); in Kenya from October to March (host breeding March to May); in Ethiopia from May to December, sometimes as late as February or March (host breeds May and June); in Nigeria host breeding occurs in August and September; in Sudan from October to February and again May to July.
  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (V. obtusa): breeding plumage occurs in early February until late July in the southeastern Congo basin, with the host breeding in April and May; in Zambia the host breeds Jan to May; in Malawi from March to June; in Tanzania from April to June; in southern Ethiopia in June.


Breeding tips

These birds are nearly impossible to breed in captivity. A large, appropriately-planted aviary with an already-established breeding group of the correct* host species is required. The waxbill host species are themselves a challenge to breed and require copious amounts of live food. (*There are occasional reports of paradise whydahs using an incorrect host species in captivity, such as firefinches or purple grenadiers). For the whydah hen to successfully smuggle her eggs into the host nests, the nests should be well-shielded from view. Once the breeding season commences and the whydah cock is in breeding plumage, the whydah pair should be introduced to the host breeding colony before they begin nesting, as the whydah hen will need to synchronize her egg-laying with that of the host hens'. Viduine finches do not appear to breed before their second year of life.

Presumed Life Cycle

Clutch size:1-5 (mean 2)
Incubation:Done by the host
Hatch date:After 12-13 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 21 days of age
Wean date: 14 days after fledging
First molt:Approx. 8 weeks


Related Article(s)

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Paradise Whydah

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