Morelet’s Seedeater, (Sporophila morelleti), is a widespread species, ranging from South Texas through Eastern Central America to Panama. It was grouped as a species with the Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater until 2018 when the White Collared Seedeater was split into two species.
The Morelet’s Seedeater is common throughout most of its range and was widespread in Southern Texas until recently. Numbers in Texas have decreased significantly and today it is only found around Laredo eastwards along the Rio Grande valley. It is found mainly in Zapata, Webb and Starr counties. The Texas population is from the sub-species. (S. m. Sharpei) and is sometimes known as Sharpe’s Seedeater. Only found in Texas and the Veracruz area, this sub-species is known for its dark broken breast band.
Typical habitat in Texas are the canebreaks found on the banks of the Rio Grande, but the Morelet’s Seedeater also inhabits pastures, weedy fields, and can sometimes be seen on roadsides.
The Morelet's Seedeater eats seeds, insects, and occasionally berries and will forge on the ground. This bird can be secretive during the winter but the male is very vocal in the summer months. He has a sweet, clear song of 2-3 high notes followed by 2-3 low notes. The Morelet’s Seedeater nests in shrubs and bushes and usually has brood of 2-4 pale blue eggs. Note that it is resident throughout its range.
Morelet’s Seedeater is a very small member of the Thraupidae family (Tanagers) but is sometimes grouped typically with Emberizidae (buntings and new world sparrows). This is still the subject of much debate. It has a short, stumpy bill with a curved culmen. Males have a black cap with white arcs under the eye. Chin and collar are whitish with the latter divided by a black nape. It has an often-incomplete black breast band with white underparts. Back and wings are black with the latter having two white bars and a white patch on the underwing. Rump is buff colored and the tail black. The female is much more non-descript, being a drab olive gray-green above and buffy below.
In flight, the stubby bill, light collar and white wing patch are distinctive.
Its song is a high pitched “sweet sweet sweet cheer-cheer-cheer”
A group of seedeaters is known as an Eatery.
Named after Pierre Marie Arthur Morelet, a French artist and naturalist of the 19
century. Interestingly, he was more of an expert on marine life than birds!
The Texas subspecies Sharpei, has been proposed as a separate species and this is currently under consideration.
The global population is estimated at 20 million individuals (when grouped as White Collared Seedeater) and this species is considered of least concern. However, the Sharpei subspecies in Texas has decreased massively since the 1940’s and is under threat. The reasons are unknown, but habitat loss is concerning.