Common names

Southern Red Bishop, Red Bishop (Eng.); rooivink (Afr.). 

Derivation of name

The genus name for the Southern Red Bishop, Euplectes, is from Greek, meaning ‘well-woven’, presumably referring to their nests, and the specific epithet, orix, is from Greek meaning ‘rice’, perhaps referring to the birds’ diet, which is mainly seeds.

How to recognise a Southern Red Bishop

The Southern Red Bishop is 10–11 centimetres long and has a thick, conical bill. The breeding males are brightly coloured with red (occasionally orange) and black plumage. The forehead, face and throat are black and the rest of the head is red. The upperparts are red apart from the brown wings and tail. The upper breast and under tail coverts are red while the lower breast and belly are black. The non-breeding male and female have streaky brown plumage, paler below. The females are smaller than the males, the bill, legs and feet are pale pinkish. The eyes are dark brown. Southern Red Bishops have various twittering calls and a nasal contact call; the male has a buzzing song.

Getting around

The Southern Red Bishop performs bumblebee-like flight with rapid wingbeats producing buzzy sounds during the breeding period. It flies airily about over the reed bed, with fluffed out plumage.


The alarm and flight call is a shrill ‘chip’, chattering rattle and a harsh, hissing sizzle from the male in breeding season. The advertising males give a buzzing, chirping song.


Euplectes orix occurs in southern Africa, except the Kalahari region, southern and coastal Namibia, and most of Botswana. They are regular in open country with permanent water. E. franciscanus (the Northern Red Bishop) reaches the equator in East Africa and southern Congo basin in the west, north of the equator in East and West Africa. It is often regarded as a race of the Southern Red Bishop.

Southern Red Bishop4


Southern Red Bishops are primarily grassland and savanna (field) birds, but are rarely found far from water. In other vegetation types with high reporting rates, they are likely to be found in areas cleared for cultivation. Nesting is chiefly in reed beds.


Southern Red Bishops feed mainly on seeds collected from plants or on the ground and also on insects and other invertebrates. They are able to catch dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. The young are fed insects and regurgitated seeds. 

Sex and LIFE Cycles

They breed from August to November in the Western Cape, April and May in Namibia, elsewhere in November to March. They lay two to four eggs, plain blue in colour, rarely with fine black spots. The incubation period is 12–13 days and the fledging period is about 14 days. 

Family life:

Southern Red Bishop males are polygynous and mate with several females. They are fairly sociable birds, nesting in colonies and foraging in flocks. The nest is most commonly built among reeds and is made of grasses and other plant materials woven together. The nest is closed with a side entrance under a small projecting ‘porch’, suspended between reeds or plant stems (very rarely in trees). The Southern Red Bishop often roosts in mixed flocks with other members of the weaver family. 

Friends and Foes

Adults are preyed upon by Cattle Egrets and other large birds. Predation by snakes, rodents and other small mammals is the most important cause of nest failures. It may damage the crops and is considered a pest in wheat-growing areas in South Africa. The species is unprotected in some regions. Southern Red Bishops are hosts to the brood parasite, Diderick Cuckoo. 

Smart Strategies

At the start of the breeding season, the males build several nests to attract females. They perform a display flight with their feathers fluffed up. They then display swivelling around the reed systems and giving a rapid rattling call. The female examines the nest and, if satisfied, will allow mating. The male approaches with ruffled plumage, giving a harsh swizzling call and bobbing up and down. However, once she is incubating, the female will not tolerate him at the nest, and he plays no part in rearing the young, except that he will join other males to attack any cuckoos entering the colony. A lifespan of at least 10 years had been recorded in the wild.

Southern Red Bishop2

Poorer world without me

The full effect of the decline of insectivorous birds is not yet known and may have indirect consequences on ecosystems.

People & I

Crop farming and the building of dams have certainly modified its distribution and led to an increase in numbers, although the draining of wetlands and the loss of reed beds has caused some local reduction in numbers. Such changes have seldom been documented (e.g. Brooke 1965b). The crop raiding habits of the Southern Red Bishop can bring it into conflict with agricultural interests (e.g. Jarvis 1985) and it is an unprotected pest species in the Western Cape. It is destroyed in large numbers in cereal-growing areas where selective control using mist nets has proved successful in many instances (Mc Veigh 1987).

Conservation status and what the future holds

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20 000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations).

The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10 000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.


Passeriformes is an order containing more than a third of all living families and over half the living bird species. The passerines are the so-called perching birds and have feet adapted to cling to branches, reeds or even man-made objects such as telephone wires, in such a way that the grip automatically tightens when the bird falls backwards. Passerines include all those birds noted for their ability to sing and are sometimes called the ‘song birds’ as a result. The Ploceidae family, which bishops fall under, is represented by sparrows, weavers, widows and queleas.

Southern Red Bishop

Scientific classification

Order: Passeriformes
Family: Ploceidae
Genus: Euplectes
Species: E. orix (Linnaeus, 1758)

References and further reading

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree, A.J., Parker, V., Brown, C.J. 1997. The Atlas of Southern African Birds, Volume 2: Passerines. Birdlife South Africa, Johannesburg.
  • Sinclair, I., Ryan, P. 2009. Complete Photographic Field Guide, Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Nature
  • Peacock, F., 2012. Chamberlain’s LBJS. The definitive guide to Southern Africa’s Little Brown Jobs. Mirafra Publishing.

Author: Mandisa Kondlo
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
April 2015

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