Nicaraguan Seed-Finch Sporophila nuttingi

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thraupidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Thomas S. Schulenberg


Geographic Variation

Sporophila nuttingi is monotypic. Oryzoborus crassirostris loftini (Wetmore 1970), from western Panama, is a junior synonym of nuttingi (see Stiles 1984).

Related Species

Described as Oryzoborus nuttingi Ridgway 1884; type locality Los Sábalos, Nicaragua

Oryzoborus (type species Loxia torridus Scopoli 1769 = Sporophila angolensis torrida, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch) are several taxa of that long have been considered to be related to Sporophila seedeaters, but previously were classified in a separate genus, on the basis of their larger size and more massive bills (e.g., Ridgway 1901, Hellmayr 1938). Olson (1981) proposed merging Oryzoborus into Sporophila, "because of similarities in plumage and morphology, and of several 'intergeneric' hybrids". This suggestion was corroborated by Mason and Burns (2013), who investigated the phylogenetics of Oryzoborus and Sporophila with phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data from two mitochondrial genes. Mason and Burns (2013) found that the taxa traditionally assigned to Oryzoborus formed a monophyletic clade; but, as this clade was embedded within Sporophila, they recommended that Oryzoborus be merged into Sporophila.

Although described as a species, nuttingi later was classified as but one subspecies of a highly polytypic "Oryzoborus" crassirostris (Large-billed Seed-Finch) (e.g. Hellmayr 1938, Paynter 1970). Meyer de Schauensee (1970), noting overlap throughout the year in northern South America between two taxa that both were considered to be subspecies of crassirostris, proposed recognition of two species: a monotypic "Oryzoborus" crassirostris, and a highly polytypic "Oryzoborus" maximiliani (Great-billed Seed-Finch), including maximiliani, magnirostris, nuttingi, occidentalis, atrirostris, and gigantirostris. Most of these taxa occur east of the Andes; the exceptions are nuttingi of Central America, and occidentalis of the Pacific slope of Colombia and Ecuador. Subspecies atrirostris (with gigantirostris) later was recognized as a separate species (Black-billed Seed-Finch) (Sibley and Monroe 1990, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). Stiles (1984) argued that nuttingi also merited species rank, on the basis of differences in bill color in males (pinkish in nuttingi, rather than ivory or bone white in maximiliani), and the absence of a white wing speculum or white underwing coverts in nuttingi. This arrangement, then, leaves three taxa typically assigned to Great-billed Seed-Finch: maximiliani, magnirostris, and occidentalis. Ridgely and Greenfield (2001) suggested, however, that occidentalis belonged with crassirostris instead. The phylogeny of Mason and Burns (2013) identified two species pairs within this group: crassirostris + atrirostris, and nuttingi + maximiliani. Their sample of maximiliani, however, is of occidentalis (west of the Andes); they had no genetic material from either nominate maximiliani or magnirostris from east of the Andes. One has to wonder, therefore, whether there is a deep phylogeographic split in the larger species of "Oryzoborus" across the Andes; if so, the question becomes, not whether occidentalis is a subspecies of either crassirostris or maximiliani; but rather, whether occidentalis is a separate species, or whether occidentalis and nuttingi should be considered isolated populations of the same species. If so, then occidentalis (Sclater 1860) would have nomenclatural priority over nuttingi (Ridgway 1884).

Sporophila (including Oryzoborus) tradionally were classified as "finches", such as Fringillidae (Hellmayr 1938) or Emberizidae (Paynter 1970). Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data reveals, however, that Sporophila (and many other genera of "finches") belong in the tanager family Thraupidae (Burns et al. 2002, Klicka et al. 2007, Barker et al. 2013).

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, T. S. (2015). Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Sporophila nuttingi), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.