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Variable Seedeater - BirdForum Opus

Male, subspecies S.c. ophthalmica
Photo © by njlarsen
Mindo, Pichincha, Ecuador, August 2015
Sporophila corvina


Male, subspecies S.c. hicksii
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Metropolitan Park, Panamá City, Panamá Province, Panama, February 2018
Male, subspecies S.c. corvina ('Black Seedeater')
Photo © by peterday
Arenal Observatory Lodge, Costa Rica, July 2023

10.5 cm with a dark, typical Seedeater bill.
This species is indeed variable.
Some males almost all black except for a small white patch on the folded wing (subspecies corvina). Most other males show pale underside and a half collar with varying amounts of black on throat; some southern subspecies are dark slaty grey on upperside.
The female is buff to tan overall.

Similar Species

The Thick-billed Seed-Finch is very similar, but it has a straight culmen, contrasting with the quite curved culmen of the Variable Seedeater.


South Mexico through Central America and in South America west of the Andes from Colombia to northwest Peru.


These four subspecies are sometimes considered part of a larger species also called Variable Seedeater but with scientific name Sporophila americana; in the split version, Sporophila americana is Wing-barred Seedeater. Part of the reason for the previous treatment was confusion over the status of Caqueta Seedeater. Today, these three species and Gray Seedeater are treated as parts of a superspecies.


Female, subspecies S.c. ophthalmica
Photo © by njlarsen
Mindo, Pichincha, Ecuador, August 2015

Four subspecies are recognized:

  • S.c. corvina
  • S.c. hoffmannii
  • S.c. hicksii
  • S.c. ophthalmica

The two last subspecies are both only found west of the Andes. At least one authority considers S.c. corvina a full species, Black Seedeater based on it having only a narrow zone of hybridization with the rest of the species in the Panama Canal area.


Lowlands and foothills up to 1,500 m (1800 m in Ecuador) altitude in semi-open areas such as forest edges, roadsides, low scrub and gardens. It also flocks with other species of seedeaters in pasture, weedy fields and other grassland.



Their main diet consists of seeds, particularly grass seed, with the addition of some berries and insects.


The deep cup nest is constructed from fine grass, rootlets, tendrils and fibres. The clutch contains 2 (very occasionally 3) brown-speckled pale grey eggs which are incubated by the female alone for 12–14 days to hatching. They fledge after 12 days.


Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. SACC proposal to recognize Caqueta Seedeater
  3. Howell & Webb, 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198540124
  4. Ridgely & Gwynne 1989. Birds of Panama. Princeton Paperbacks. ISBN 0691025126
  5. Jaramillo, A., J. del Hoyo, N. Collar, and C.J. Sharpe (2020). Variable Seedeater (Sporophila corvina), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.varsee3.01

Recommended Citation

External Links

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