email a friend
printable version
Marsh Seedeater Sporophila palustris
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

Trapping pressure and habitat loss are rapidly reducing the very small population of this species, and breeding habitat (and therefore the population) is fragmented. It consequently qualifies as Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Taxonomic note
Sporophila zelichi (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) is no longer recognised following SACC (2009); it is now treated as a colour morph of S. palustris.

10 cm. Small, distinctive seedeater. Male has white throat, cheeks and upper breast contrasting strongly with rufous-chestnut lower underparts and rump. Grey crown and mantle. Slightly darker wings and tail, fringed paler. White patch at base of primaries. Female inseparable from females of other Sporophila spp. Similar spp. Voice Spirited series of high-pitched whistles and melancholic chíuu calls. Hints Often associates with other grassland Sporophila spp.

Distribution and population
Sporophila palustris breeds in Argentina (Corrientes, Entre Ríos and possibly Buenos Aires), Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul), Uruguay (50-100 birds in the río Uruguay basin and 400-600 in the south-east wetlands [A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007]) and possibly south-east Paraguay. It winters in Brazil (Bahia [Souza 1999], Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, Paraná and probably in Tocantins and Santa Catarina) and perhaps north-east Paraguay, but there are very few records. Migrants are regularly recorded in east Paraguay (Lowen et al. 1996, Clay et al. 1998), and north Argentina. It can occur at high densities, but is extremely local and has declined substantially (at least) in Argentina and (to a lesser extent) Uruguay (Pearman and Abadie 1995, A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007). Recent records in Paraguay all refer to single birds, although a record from southern Paraguay in 2005 indicated possible breeding and the species was present in San Rafael National Park through most of 2006 (A. J. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007).

Population justification
The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall into the band 1,000-2,499 individuals. This equates to 667-1,666 mature individuals, rounded here to 600-1,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
A rapid and on-going population decline is suspected owing to trapping for the bird trade together with widespread habitat loss and degradation.

It breeds during the austral summer in inundated grasslands and marshes, showing s strong preference for the latter (Di Giacomo et al. 2010), where patches of Paspalum spp. and areas of Andropogon lateralis containing ripe seeds are favoured (Di Giacomo et al. 2010). At other times, it inhabits various dry and wet grasslands.

Heavy trapping pressure has extirpated the species from parts of Argentina and threatens populations in the río Uruguay basin (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007). Potential breeding sites are intensively grazed, and some have been completely trampled by cattle. Rapid afforestation with Eucalyptus and Pinus spp. (Pearman and Abadie 1995, World Bank 1995, Clay et al. in prep.) (Di Giacomo et al. 2010) is even affecting wet valley bottoms, regardless of poor tree growth (R. Davies verbally 1998). Pesticides and other chemicals are carried by drainage and run-off into marshes (Clay et al. in prep.). In south-east Uruguay, there has been extensive drainage for agriculture and this is continuing at a local scale (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007). Mechanised agriculture, invasive grasses and annual burning additionally threaten winter and migration habitats (Stotz et al. 1996, Parker and Willis 1997). In southern Paraguay,and perhaps parts of Uruguay and Argentina seasonally inundated grasslands and marshes where the species might have breeding populations are being converted to rice fields (A. J. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
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. 1999, 2007). It is legally protected in Brazil and Uruguay, and trapping is prohibited in Argentina and Uruguay, although this is not effectively enforced (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007). It breeds at Mata Grande Biological Reserve, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (Vizentin-Bugoni in litt. 2011), Potrerillo de Santa Teresa Reserve, Uruguay (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007), and Iberá Provincial Reserve, Argentina (Chebez et al. 1998). Emas National Park, Brazil, is possibly an important wintering site, and it has also been recorded in Espinilho Ecological Park, Ibirapuitã and São Donato Biological Reserves and Itirapina Ecological Station (E. Machado in litt. 2007). It is protected by law in Paraguay and occurs in San Rafael National Park, within which two areas are protected by Guyra Paraguay, and Reserva Isla Yacyreta, where an ongoing monitoring scheme is studying threatened grassland birds (A. J. Lesterhuis in litt. 2007). Migrating birds occur in several Paraguayan and Argentine reserves.  The species has been heavily exploited, but it is unclear if it has been bred in any volume.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey south Paraguay for breeding populations. Develop an action plan for this and similar seedeaters. Protect key sites, especially Arroyo Capilla-Arroyo Sauzal-Puerto Boca, Argentina; and Bañado de los Indios and Bañado de India Muerta, in the Bañados del Este region of southeast Uruguay (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, 2007). Remove incentives for afforesting grasslands. Enforce the prohibition of trapping and trade. List on CMS Appendix I. Elucidate its taxonomic status.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Chebez, J. C.; Rey, N. R.; Barbaskas, M.; Di Giacomo, A. G. 1998. Las aves de los Parques Nacionales de la Argentina. Literature of Latin America, Buenos Aries.

Clay, R. P.; Capper, D. R.; Mazar Barnett, J.; Burfield, I. J.; Esquivel, E. Z.; Fariña, R.; Kennedy, C. P.; Perrens, M.; Pople, R. G. 1998. White-winged Nightjars Caprimulgus candicans and cerrado conservation: the key findings of project Aguará Ñu 1997. Cotinga: 52-56.

Clay, R. P.; Lowen, J.C.; Capper, D. R. in prep.. A Paraguayan perspective on grassland conservation in central South America.

Collar, N. J.; Gonzaga, L. P.; Krabbe, N.; Madroño Nieto, A.; Naranjo, L. G.; Parker, T. A.; Wege, D. C. 1992. Threatened birds of the Americas: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Di Giacomo, A. S.; Vickery, P. D.; Casaas, H.; Spitznagel, O. A.; Ostrosky, C.; Krapovickas, S.; Bosso, A. J. 2010. Landscape associations of globally threatened grassland birds in the Aguapey river Important Bird Area, Corrientes, Argentina. Bird Conservation International 20(1): 62-73.

Lowen, J. C.; Bartrina, L.; Clay, R. P.; Tobias, J. A. 1996. Biological surveys and conservation priorities in eastern Paraguay (the final reports of Projects Canopy '92 and Yacutinga '95). CSB Conservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Parker, T. A.; Willis, E. O. 1997. Notes on three tiny grassland flycatchers, with comments on the disappearance of South American fire-diversified savannas. Ornithological Monographs 48: 549-555.

Pearman, M.; Abadie, E. I. Undated. Mesopotamia grasslands and wetlands survey, 1991--1993: conservation of threatened birds and habitat in north-east Argentina.

Souza, D. G. S. 1999. Novos registros de espécies de aves no estado da Bahia e sua correlaçao com os ecossistemas. Atualidades Ornitológicas 88: 6-7.

Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

World Bank. 1995. Paraguay: agricultural sector review.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from the Threatened birds of the Americas: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 1992). Please note taxonomic treatment and IUCN Red List category may have changed since publication.

Detailed species account from the Threatened birds of the Americas: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 1992). Please note, taxonomic treatment and IUCN Red List category may have changed since publication.

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Recuento detallado de la especie tomado del libro Aves Amenazadas de las Americas, Libro Rojo de BirdLife International (BirdLife International 1992). Nota: la taxonomoía y la categoría de la Lista Roja de la UICN pudo haber cambiado desde esta publicación.

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Capper, D., Mazar Barnett, J., Pople, R., Sharpe, C J, Symes, A.

Azpiroz, A., Davies, R., Lesterhuis, A., Machado, É., del Castillo, H., Vizentin-Bugoni, J

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Sporophila palustris. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Marsh seedeater (Sporophila palustris) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author (Barrows, 1883)
Population size 600-1700 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 86,600 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species