A small widowbird. The breeding male is jet black and develops a 20-centimeter floppy graduated tail and, in some areas, a crimson collar and/or crown. The female and non-breeding male have dark streaked upperparts, pale unstreaked underparts, and a yellowish eyebrow and face, and lack the long tail. Pairs breed in open grassland, savanna, scrub, and cultivated areas. The species may flock, often with other seedeaters, and move locally when breeding is over.