The Pin-tailed whydah is resident throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara and is quite widespread in southern Africa, absent only from most of Botswana and from the coastal desert of Namibia. Its favoured habitat is open woodland, grassland and suburban gardens.
The Pin-tailed whydah is a fairly small bird, with a length of approximately 13 cm. During the breeding season the males and females are very different in plumage, and the breeding male grows a tail that adds 20cm or so to his length. During this time the male has a black crown and back and the long tail is also black. The wings are black with white patches and the under parts, including the throat, are white. The eyes are dark brown; legs and feet are dark grey and the bill is bright red. The females and non-breeding males are similar, rather nondescript with streaked brown upperparts and white to buff under parts.
The call of the Pin-tailed whydah is a high-pitched, sustained series of “swirt swee swirt” and similar sounds. They feed mainly on grass seeds and grain, for which they forage on the ground, and also on termites.
Pin-tailed whydahs are both polygynous and promiscuous. The males are aggressively territorial, and each make has a small group of females in his territory, but these females will also mate with other males who may venture into the territory while the main man is otherwise engaged. The males mating display involves a great deal of hovering in front of the female in order to display his tail, and only about one in ten of these displays will result in mating.
They are brood parasites, and do not build a nest of their own. They parasitize mainly Common waxbills (Estrilda astrild), and the female whydah may destroy one of the waxbill’s eggs before laying one or two of her own. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of about eleven days and the gape of the newborn whydah will be similar to that of the host bird.
The scientific binomial for the Pin-tailed whydah is Vidua macroura; Vidua from the Latin for a widow, referring to the black plumage and the long black tail; and macroura from the Greek for a large tail. Thus the name describes a widow with a large tail, which does nothing to capture the essence of this beautiful little bird!
I managed to get some excellent photographs of Whydahs courting. Read : Courtship Routine of Hormone Driven Pin-tailed Whydahs