Don’t you find “Scaly-feathered finch” an odd and rather unflattering name? I prefer “Baardmannetjie”, this small bird’s Afrikaans name that can be translated as “little man with a beard”. Take a look at the distinctive malar stripes; isn’t “Baardmannetjie” appropriate? Actually “Scaly-feathered” is also appropriate because the forehead is black and is scaled with white, but somehow it sounds uncomplimentary.
The Scaly-feathered finch belongs to the Ploceidae family, which includes Weavers, Queleas, and Widowbirds. It about the same size as a common waxbill, its length being about 11 cm, with its fore-crown black, scaled with white, the rest of its upper parts are light grey; its wings and tail black, edged with white; below it is whitish with those bold black malar stripes mentioned above. The sexes are alike. The pink bill is a useful aid to identification, although the bird is fairly distinctive and not likely to be confused with any other species.
It is a common little bird, classified as a Southern African near-endemic as its range extends into northwards into Southern Angola. It inhabits the drier parts of Southern Africa, preferring areas with Acacia savanna, dry watercourses, and farmlands. Gregarious by nature, it is found in flocks of up to twenty birds. It is a seedeater, and forages on the ground for grass seeds, hopping quickly and is constantly on the move. It will also hawk invertebrates such as butterflies, wasps, bees, and ants.
The Scaly-feathered finch calls frequently, its voice a shrill kreep krop, kreep krop, but it also has a repertoire of other chattering sounds and songs.
The Scaly-feathered finch is monogamous and its nest is a ball of pale, dry grass stems and inflorescences, lined with grass flowers and with the entrance tube on one side. The clutch is usually three to five eggs that are pale green spotted with brown, that hatch after an incubation period of 10 to 12 days.
The scientific binomial of this little finch is Sporopipes squamifrons; the derivation of sporopipes is probably from the Greek “spora” meaning seeds and “opipteu” meaning to look for, and squamifrons form the Latin “squama” meaning a scale and “frons” meaning the forehead. Hence a seed-seeker with a scaly forehead, which seems quite appropriate really.