Family Tanagers (Thraupidae)

Least Concern

Black-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila ophthalmica)


French: Sporophile variable German: Weißhalsspelzer Spanish: Semillero pechinegro

Spermophila ophthalmica

P. L. Sclater

, 1860,

Babahoyo, Los Ríos, Ecuador


Hitherto treated as conspecific with S. corvina (and formerly with S. americana) under the name “Variable Seedeater”, but separated here on account of its black-and-white vs all-black plumage in male (4); notably paler overall ochre-brown plumage in female, with paler area on central belly (1); reportedly more musical song, “aurita” being described as “a much better, sweeter singer than the Caribbean corvina#R (allow 2); narrow hybrid zone near Canal Zone of Panama involving race hicksii, resulting in hybrids to which the name “aurita” applies (2); and possible habitat difference, frequenting “dense thickety stands along the edge of woodland” vs “largely in the open and semi-open”#R (ns). From Colombia, proposed race anchicayae (described from R Anchicayá, in Valle) is a hybrid between race hicksii of present species and race bogotensis of S. intermedia, and chocoana (from Nuquí, in Chocó) is considered inseparable from hicksii. Three subspecies recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • S. o. hoffmanni Cabanis, 1861 – Pacific slope of Costa Rica and extreme W Panama.
  • S. o. hicksii (Lawrence, 1865) – Panama (except extreme W Pacific slope and Bocas del Toro) E through both slopes to W Colombia (Córdoba S to Cauca).
  • S. o. ophthalmica (P. L. Sclater, 1860) – lowlands W of Andes from SW Colombia (Nariño) S to NW Peru (La Libertad).
  • Descriptive notes

    9·6–11·5 cm; 9·5–12·5 g. Tiny passerine with thick bill approximately as long as it is deep, with distinct rounded culmen. Male nominate race is entirely black above with... read more


    Song of nominate in NW Ecuador a sweet slurred warble ending in a buzzy “tzzjirrrt!”. Song of... read more


    Inhabits scrub, forest-edge thickets, damp grassland, weedy fields, gardens and roadsides. May... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds primarily on seeds (Zexmenia, Heliocarpus, Cecropia, Solanum, Paspalum, Amaranthus... read more


    Season May–Oct (usually Jul and Aug) in C Panama (Canal Zone); timing varies from year to year, depending on rainfall, as the species waits... read more


    Resident, with some local movements.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Fairly common to common in most of range; common to abundant in many parts. Has large range, and no evidence of any no large-scale... read more

    Recommended citation

    del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Sharpe, C.J. (2019). Black-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila ophthalmica). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 14 December 2019).