A small whydah with a reddish-orange bill and legs. The breeding male has buffy-orange underparts and neck, a dark cap, and 17-centimeter-long black tail feathers. The female and non-breeding male have streaky upperparts and pale buffy underparts. Breeding males hold territories in dry thorn scrub, but form flocks with other seedeaters after breeding. The species imitates the song of the Violet-eared Waxbill, which it parasitizes. Differs from the similar Pin-tailed Whydah by Shaft-tailed Whydah's duller pink bill and streakier head in female and non-breeding male plumages, and black-and-buff plumage of the breeding male.