Chestnut Seedeater Sporophila cinnamomea


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable owing to a rapid population reduction caused by trapping for the bird trade and extensive habitat loss. The total population is probably now small and fragmented.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners or close relatives with a similar body size, and the fact that only a proportion of the estimated Extent of Occurrence is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 3,750-14,999 individuals in total, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
A rapid and on-going decline is suspected, owing to trapping for the bird trade, compounded by habitat loss and degradation.

Distribution and population

Sporophila cinnamomea breeds in north-east Argentina (not uncommon in Corrientes but more local in Entre Ríos [Pearman and Abadie 1995, Chebez et al. 1998]), west and extreme south-east Uruguay (mostly Paysandú, Río Negro and Rocha, but also Artigas, Soriano and Treinta y Tres [A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1997, 1999, 2007]), extreme south-east Paraguay (Itapúa and Ñeembucú [R. P. Clay in litt. 1999, Codesido and Fraga 2009]) and southernmost Brazil (west and south-central Rio Grande do Sul [Belton 1984-1985, G. A. Bencke in litt. 2000]). Migrants have been recorded in Argentina (Misiones, Formosa and Buenos Aires) (Chebez et al. 1998) and throughout east Paraguay (including Presidente Hayes) (Hayes 1995, Lowen et al. 1996, Clay et al. 1998, R. P. Clay in litt. 1999), with presumed wintering birds in Brazil (Pará, Goiás, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná) (Willis and Oniki 1988, Ridgely and Tudor 1989) and perhaps north-east Paraguay. In 1969, there were c.100 males at Arroyo Barú and Arroyo Perucho Verna, Argentina, but only one singing male at Arroyo Barú in 1992 (Pearman and Abadie 1995). Surveys in 1991-1993 found no more than eight males at any site in Argentina (Pearman and Abadie 1995). In 1998, there were 23 males at Ñu Guazu, Paraguay (R. P. Clay in litt. 1999) but only eight were found here in January 2016 (R. Clay in litt. 2016) and the majority of records since 2004 relate to single birds (A. B. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007).


It is a grassland species, favouring areas with tall, dense grasses (particularly Paspalum) (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, Pearman and Abadie 1995, D. Caballero in litt. 2017). At least in Uruguay, it inhabits drier sites than S. palustris and S. zelichi, which prefer periodically inundated areas (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1997, 1999, 2007).


Heavy trapping pressure is compounded by extensive habitat conversion. Rapid afforestation with Eucalyptus and Pinus spp. (Clay et al. in prep.) (Pearman and Abadie 1995, World Bank 1995) is even affecting wet valley bottoms, regardless of subsequent poor tree growth (R. Davies verbally 1998). Pesticides and other chemicals are carried by drainage and run-off directly into marshes (Clay et al. in prep.). Mechanised agriculture, invasive grasses and annual burning additionally threaten winter and migration habitats (Stotz et al. 1996, Parker and Willis 1997). In southern Paraguay seasonally inundated grasslands and marshes are being converted to rice fields and this already taken place in much of the Ñu Guazu area since the 1998 records (A. B. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007, R. Clay in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I. A CMS Memorandum of Understanding targeting this and other southern South American grassland species has recently been approved by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1997, 1999, 2007). In Argentina, trapping is prohibited, and it breeds in El Palmar National Park (Pearman and Abadie 1995). Non-breeding birds have only been recorded numerously at Emas National Park, Goiás (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Trapping is prohibited in Uruguay but illegal trade continues, especially along the Uruguay River basin (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1997, 1999, 2007). It is protected by law in Paraguay and occurs in San Rafael National Park, within which two areas are protected by Guyra Paraguay (A. B. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007). It is protected under Brazilian law, and occurs in Emas and Ilha Grande National Parks, São Donato Biological Reserve, Itirapina Ecological Station (E. Machado in litt. 2007).  It has been heavily exploited, but it is unclear if it has been bred in any volume. 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Locate the most important breeding and wintering sites. Survey grasslands in Misiones, Ñeembucú and Itapúa, Paraguay, for breeding populations. Develop an action plan for this and similar seedeaters. Remove incentives for afforesting grasslands. Manage habitat in the Arroyo Sauzal area (Pearman and Abadie 1995). Establish a reserve network in the southern Paraguayan grasslands. Enforce the prohibition of trapping and trade (Pearman and Abadie 1995) and develop a structured captive breeding programme. Exclusion of cattle from some areas during the spring-summer to allow grass to grow to appropriate heights for the S. cinnamomea, may benefit the species (D. Caballero in litt. 2017).


10 cm. Small, mostly rufous seedeater. Male rufous-chestnut throughout with grey cap and dusky wings and tail, edged paler. White patch at base of primaries. Bill usually light yellow, sometimes grey or black. Female indistinguishable from other Sporophila spp. Similar spp. Grey-and-chestnut Seedeater S. hypochroma has grey back. Nominate Capped Seedeater S. bouvreuil has black cap and is more tawny coloured. Voice Thin, warbled whistles. Hints Often associates with mixed-species Sporophila flocks on migration and in winter.


Text account compilers
Wheatley, H., Sharpe, C.J., Pople, R., Capper, D., Symes, A., Westrip, J.

Azpiroz, A., Bencke, G.A., Caballero, D., Clay, R.P., Davies, R., Di Giacomo, A., Lesterhuis, A., Machado, É. & del Castillo, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Sporophila cinnamomea. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022.