Chestnut seedeater (Sporophila cinnamomea)

Chestnut seedeater being used by trappers to call more wild birds to the trap
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Chestnut seedeater fact file

Chestnut seedeater description

GenusSporophila (1)

A small but stocky finch species, the chestnut seedeater is reddish-brown with a grey crown. The wings are edged with grey and a white patch can be seen at the base of the primaries. The bill, feet and legs are dark grey. Females are duller in colour and are hard to distinguish from females of other Sporophila species, particularly since the chestnut seedeater associates with other Sporophila species on migration and during the winter. Males call with thin, warbling whistles (2).

Length: 10 cm (2)

Chestnut seedeater biology

Although normally active during the day, the male may sing at night during the breeding season, as he tries to attract females and defend his territory. When singing, the male chooses a prominent spot, points his beak vertically and ruffles his feathers. He will also fight with and chase away other males. Whilst thought to be mainly monogamous, chestnut seedeaters may mate promiscuously when the population is at a high density. Once laying has taken place, pairs remain faithful; the female incubates the eggs alone, but the male joins her in feeding and caring for the nestlings (4).

The chestnut seedeater balances on tall grasses to pick seeds from the seed heads, and consumes no other food (4).


Chestnut seedeater range

The chestnut seedeater breeds in northeast Argentina, west and southeast Uruguay, southeast Paraguay and southernmost Brazil. It migrates after breeding, moving to wintering grounds within this range (2).


Chestnut seedeater habitat

Inhabits wet grassland and marshes, particularly with tall, dense grasses, as well as on agricultural land (2).


Chestnut seedeater status

The chestnut seedeater is classified as Vulnerable (VU A2cde + 3cde; C2a(i)) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Chestnut seedeater threats

This species has suffered a sharp decline as a result of two main factors. It is caught in large numbers for the caged-bird trade, with trappers making use of a calling male seedeater in a cage which attracts further birds. The habitat of this bird is undergoing afforestation with eucalyptus and pine trees for logging, despite these plant species being poorly adapted to the wet ground and showing weak growth. Additionally, pesticides and fertilisers are draining from agricultural areas into the marshes home to the chestnut seedeater. Mechanised agricultural practices, invasive grasses and annual burning threaten the winter habitats (2).


Chestnut seedeater conservation

Trapping is illegal in Argentina and the chestnut seedeater is present in the country’s El Palmar National Park where it is known to breed. It has also been recorded as a non-breeding visitor to Emas National Park in Brazil. To reverse the decline of this species, governments must alter their policies to remove incentives currently offered for afforesting grasslands. A network of reserves through the southern Paraguayan grasslands and a total ban on trapping and trade are also necessary for the recovery of this species. An action plan must be developed and surveying must continue (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
In birds, the outer flight feathers.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2005)
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2005)
  3. CMS (March, 2005)
  4. Olendorf, D., Bock, W.J., Jackson, J.A. and Hutchins, M. (2002) Grizmek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia Volume II: Birds VI. Gale Group, Minnesota.

Image credit

Chestnut seedeater being used by trappers to call more wild birds to the trap  
Chestnut seedeater being used by trappers to call more wild birds to the trap

© Alec Earnshaw

Alec Earnshaw


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