Morelet's Seedeater

Sporophila morelleti

  • Version: 1.2 — Published November 5, 2018
  • Jack C. Eitniear

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Distribution of Morelet's Seedeater.
Male Morelet's Seedeater (S. m. sharpei).

A small, finch-like bird with short, thick, curved bill. The northernmost subspecies of Morelet's Seedeater (S. m. sharpei), also known as Sharpe's Seedeater, is found from Texas to Veracruz, Mexico. This subspecies is known for its broken, dark breast band. Males are mottled black over most of dorsal surface, but the crown, nape, and sides of head are more heavily marked, usually appearing as dark cap. The sides of the neck are buff white, bordered below with a mottled black partial collar; the remainder of underparts are cinnamon buff to whitish buff. Bill is black.

© Jay Packer , Texas , United States , 13 March 2013
Female Morelet's Seedeater.

Female is relatively drab and plainly marked grayish olive to brownish olive, with narrow whitish wing-bars (no white spot at base of primaries). The wings and tail are darker gray; the bill is brown, paler on lower mandible.

© Michael Woodruff , Tabasco , Mexico , 18 May 2018

The Morelet's Seedeater is the northernmost species in the genus Sporophila. Ranging from western Panama to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, it inhabits savanna, pastures, and brushy fields, frequently near water. Historically in the United States, this species was considered common and ranged widely throughout the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, but since the 1960s it has been found mainly in Zapata, Webb, and Starr Counties, principally during summer and in small flocks. Habitat destruction and the use of agrochemicals are thought to be the main causes of this decline.

Males in their conspicuous black-and-white plumage are frequently observed singing from March to October. Females are more secretive and are usually observed only when feeding or traveling to roosts. Although considered a seed specialist, this species feeds many insects to nestlings; however, fledglings are fed exclusively grass seeds. This species has been little studied, and its ecological requirements and population trends remain poorly known.

In Central America, several members of the genus Sporophila occur sympatrically. In definitive plumage, male Morelet's Seedeater is easily distinguished, but juveniles and females are very similar in appearance to other seedeater species, making identification difficult in the field.

Recommended Citation

Eitniear, J. C. (2018). Morelet's Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti), version 1.2. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.