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The Jacarina Finch – a Blue-Black Beauty for the Small Bird Enthusiast

Blue-black Grassquit MaleFinches and softbills may be found in every color imaginable, but birds with black plumage are very scarce in the trade.  One exception is the aptly named Blue-Black Grassquit or Jacarina Finch (Volatinia jacarina).  Not a finch at all, this gorgeous little bird sports deep blue-black feathers that are highlighted with purple – always striking, but especially so when housed with brightly-colored species.

Natural History

The Jacarina Finch is actually classified as a Tanager (Family Thraupidae) and is more closely related to the brilliant Brazilian Tanager (please see photo) than to any of the common pet trade finches.  It is, however, finch-like in its behavior and captive needs, and gets along well with most species.

The Jacarina Finches’ huge range extends from southern Mexico south through Central America to northern Chile and east to eastern Brazil.  They are birds of brushy, fairly open habitats, and may be found in overgrown fields, lightly wooded grasslands, parks and village gardens.  Wherever they occur, the males are well-known by local people for their unique hopping, quivering mating display.

Captive Housing

Jacarina Finches make fine captives and are regularly bred in European collections and, to a lesser extent, in the USA.  Despite topping out at a mere 4.5 inches in length, they are best kept in large indoor flight cages or outdoor aviaries – active and shy, they fare poorly when crowded.


Female GrassquitThe basis of their diet can consist of a finch seed mix, into which has been added a bit of Softbill Select and Egg Food.  Sprouts and greens should be offered regularly.

Insects and other invertebrates are essential if you want to keep your birds in peak color, and indispensible for pairs with chicks.  The Zoo Med Bug Napper and canned invertebrates are of great value in this regard.

Further Reading

Some ornithologists believe that this may be the bird that crossed to the Galapagos Islands and gave rise to the many species that spurred Darwin’s thoughts on evolution; read more here.

Videos of displaying male Jacarina Finches.


Jacarina images referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dario Sanches


  1. avatar

    Is it possible that this Jacarina finch could be at my finch sock just south of Chicago?

  2. avatar


    Escapees are always possible, but this bird is not common in US collections or known to have been sighted in your area. best, Frank

  3. avatar

    I also have a Jacarina finch at my bird feeder for the last two years. He only appears in the Spring, Summer months. I live in Connecticut – I only see the one though – he does hang around the golden finches.

  4. avatar

    Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for your input…all types of escaped pets show up from time to time, but I’ve not read anything that would indicate that this species could survive a Ct winter…not impossible, perhaps, but unlikely. Ct has a huge diversity of native birds…any of the many good field guides available might help you to decide if perhaps a similar bird is present..enjoy and please keep me posted, Best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Thank you for your response/input. Is there any way I can post a picture of the bird so that you might be able to see it? Thank you – Sandy 🙂

  6. avatar

    Small, unpatterned birds are tough to ID via photo, but I’ll try; pl email to findiviglio@thatpetplace.com; if you feed/watch birds, keep a field guide handy…so many fine points to see – you’ll discover more species than you imagined, I’m sure, best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I seen a blue and black finch in hagerstown, Maryland. I think it was a blue jacarina

  8. avatar


    There’s always a chance of an escaped pet, but could you have possibly seen a blue grosbeak?

    Best, Frank

  9. avatar
    Carroll Petersen

    I also have 2 blue black grassquits on my finch feeder with all the gold finches. I too thought they might be blue grosbeaks but much too small definitely same size as finches. I live in Daphne Alabama.

  10. avatar

    Hello Carroll,

    Thanks for the observation; illustrations of Alabama’s native birds can be found here, in case you wish to look them over. Indigo buntings are somewhat similar, although larger. Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  11. avatar

    Southeast Alabama We have pictures taken of this beautiful bird. They never stay very long but we see them in the spring. April usually.

  12. avatar

    Pretty positive I saw one in our neighborhood today with other finches . Very small , almost like a large humming bird but the blue was so intense ,it was almost like a black /purple color .

  13. avatar

    Thanks, Robert…interesting to have your observation, best regards, Frank

  14. avatar

    Thanks for the observation, Liz,

    Enjoy, Frank

  15. avatar

    Day to day after feeding the family cat. Once in a while she won’t eat all her food, which leaves the birds a chance to eat. Even after leaving a separate plate of bird food out for them they still eat the cat food. Well the cat left her food bowl still full of food, again today. Which means the birds will be by to eat. And I am enjoying every single one of them here. But I noticed one I have never seen before. New to the neighborhood I guess. But a very small very blue colored bird. Never seen one like this before and don’t even know what it’s name would be. So i did some research a found it’s called a Jacarina Finch. Will start having my camera next to me tomorrow to see if this beauty does come back I can take some photos of it.

  16. avatar


    Thanks for your interest; a photo would be great; they are not native but escapees do show up from time to time. Please let me know if you need help with the ID if you obtain a photo, best, Frank

  17. avatar

    Today Easter Sunday I saw one jacarina finch (?) In among my yellows. In the bright spring sun it looked almost periwinkle blue with deep shiny black/purple. Never have I seen one before.we live in very rural dubois county Indiana. Teeny tiny bird.

  18. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    I’ve also seen a jacarina finch in my back yard. I live in west central Florida – Hernando to be specific. I saw the couple today about 6pm. I took three pictures through my dining room window, which I’m afraid was rather dirty. However, I’m sure you’ll agree with my assessment, when you see the pictures. There’s a squirrel in the background and a dove in the foreground. They could be used for size comparisons. How can I e-mail them to you? Happy Easter.

  19. avatar


    Might it possibly have been an Indigo Bunting?

    Happy Easter, Frank

  20. avatar

    Hi Paul,

    Could it have been an Indigo Bunting?

    Happy easter, Frank

  21. avatar

    My mom and I live in Hattiesburg, MS. Over the past few days, we’ve had a “flock” (?) of about 10 to 12 of these tiny blue birds outside out kitchen window at her bird feeder. I first told her they looked like someone threw some finches in an ink well, until I saw this site and found this post. I’ve searched all over Google and this is the bird we’ve been seeing in our yard. I know they’re not native to this area, but I’ll try and get some pictures tomorrow when they show up.

  22. avatar

    Hello Jamie,

    Thanks for the post…could you have perhaps seen Indigo Buntings?

    Best, Frank

  23. avatar

    Last year 2013, I spotted this little blue-black bird at my feeders, it didn’t stay long and I thought it was a blue bird, but again this year May 2014 it once again has shown up, I have studied it thoroughly and believe it really is a Jacarina Finch, a real blue black beauty. I hope you can figure this out for me thanks. Betsy Hackworth

  24. avatar

    Hello Betsy,

    It could be, but they are not commonly kept in Michigan, as far as I know, (if that is where you are) and an escapee would not survive the winter there (not sure I would!)…might it have been an especially dark indigo bunting? (sorry if you have considered this…). Please keep me posted, best regards, Frank

  25. avatar

    Hello .I just spotted a small dark blue bird at the finch feeder.It was small like a finch.I live in Ontario Canada could it be a Jacarina finch..I have had the indigo buntings but there very vibrant blue

  26. avatar

    Hi Tracy,

    It’s possible, although not likely as I are not common in the trade there, as far as I know…perhaps check through these photos of Ontario’s warblers and some of the other groups..please let me know your thoughts, best, Frank

  27. avatar

    I have viewed every image possible and read every article possible and I have several pictures but none as beautiful as the bird in my feeder seen with own eyes. . I 100% believe it is a Jacarina and I do not have just one I have had 3 in my feeder at the same time. I have looked into the indigo bunty also after reading other comments and this bird only fits Jacarina description. I live in Northeast Wisconsin

  28. avatar

    Hello Jamie,

    It could very well be, although they would not survive Wisconsin’s winter and so would be new escapees. If you’ve not checked a good field guide, that would be useful, as such is generally a better resource for bird ID’s, strays from other regions, escaped captive etc. than are internet sites.

    Please keep me posted, best, Frank

  29. avatar
    Michael M Tallman

    Frank, stumbled across your page here when trying to figure out the blue/black finch-sized bird that I only caught a few second glimpse of. I live in central MA and could very well be an indigo bunting or similar – first time seeing this bird here and wish I could have gotten a pic of it. Now I’m going to keep my eye out to see if it comes around again. Great comments, definitely helpful 🙂

    – Mike

  30. avatar

    Dear Frank: There have been so many sittings of these beautiful birds, that I still cannot believe that you will not resort to the fact that the world is changing and these are the jacarina finches that are coming around. I have read all of the sittings that have been posted to you, but you keep on giving the same answer. we all have researched the birds that frequent our areas, I do believe that we are all describing the same bird that is now frequenting our feeders. I know you said that the Jacarina cannot survive our winters and that is why I do not see these birds in CT in the winters – they must be migrating to warmer weather. I am graciously awaiting to see if this bird shows itself again this year, as it has the past two. Please listen to those who have reached out to you for expert advise, as we all value it, but maybe, just maybe this is an unexplained phenomenon.

    To those that have witness this beauty in their backyard – keep on spectating their wonder!!! 🙂

  31. avatar

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your observation. Indigo Buntings vary somewhat in coloration, and certain individuals do resemble this species, especially when seen quickly. Photos sent in by readers have turned out to be indigo buntings, so you may be on the right track. Escapees are also possible, although not common. Please keep me posted.

    best regards, Frank

  32. avatar


    Thanks for your interest. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure I understand your first sentence. The answers I’ve provided are appropriate, and the photos that have been sent via email have been of Indigo Buntings. But please forward any relevant info that you may have, always interesting to hear of sightings, etc. The northern limit of the Jacarina’s natural range is southern Mexico; a natural range expansion has not been documented in any professional journal (if that is what is being suggested). An expansion of such magnitude, along with the required new migratory pattern, has not been undertaken by any native North American bird. However, others do occur..your best source of info re this would be the journal The Auk ; your local Audubon chapter can provide information on suspected sightings of escaped pets, best regards, Frank

  33. avatar

    pretty certain jacarina finch in Tucson…suppose it could be escaped individual, but being so close to Mexico….could they have isolated presence here? Only slightly larger than hummingbird, but blue-black color and finchness (beak) for certain. Thanks!

  34. avatar

    Hi Deborah,

    They only range to central Mexico, but strays are possible in AZ in addition to escapees. Your local Audubon Society chapter will likely have a list of unusual bird sightings in the area, may be worth checking,

    Enjoy, Frank

  35. avatar

    Hi, I just have to ring-in on another Northerly sighting of Jacarina Finch/Blue-black Grassquit. I’ve read the thread here so checked thoroughly all possible other suggestions, but what I saw was DARK blue (looked black until the light hit it just right), small size – perched on a blade of tall river grass that only curved a bit under its weight. Watched it for quite a while as it picked seeds out of the head of the grass stalk. Likely an escapee I guess, since it seems not possible he’s here otherwise. I hope he’ll be OK! Will go back and try to spot him again, and get a photo 🙂 This is in Ontario Canada!

  36. avatar

    Thanks very much!…please keep me posted, best , Frank

  37. avatar

    We saw a bird at our feeder today in western NY. It was there for quite awhile with other finches. It was absolutely a jacarina finch. We looked up photos and it was a match.

  38. avatar

    Just wanted to let you know my wife and I observed a Jacarina Finch at our feeder on July 31, 2014, at about 4 p.m. it was cloudy and only feet from or window to view. It so amazed us and without ever seeing such a bird before we looked it up and found on this site. We are located in Guntersville, Alabama.

  39. avatar

    Thanks for the observation, Randy, much appreciated. Enjoy, Frank

  40. avatar

    Hey Frank i bought one of those in central america 10 years ago, i kept him at an outdoors aviary with other finches mostly zebra finches, he was a male and was very agressive with the zebras, anywas the years passed by and the other finches died, but he didnt, until a couple of days ago i noticed he wasnt singing or being active at all and he died at 10 years of age. When i bought it i noticed that he was wild caught and thats the reason why i bought him i felt sorry for him because his little head was bleeding i assume he hurt himself trying to escape. During those 10 years i kept him he ate only commercial seed mixes for canaries and finches. Im trully devastated by his death because he had such a strong personality even though he was about 3.5-4 inches. Whenever i went near his cage to put some seed mix on his bowl he would look me in the eyes, yes they are very shy birds like most birds, but this is the firt bird ever that has made eye contact with me. Anyways im writing this because im wondering if theres any information about their lifespan in captivity or in the wild, as i havent been able to find any info online. Thanks very much.

  41. avatar

    Hello Anna,

    Thanks for your most interesting post! Sad to lose the bird, but I’m certain it’s life was much improved under your care…I have seen what happens to W/C birds in Latin America and elsewhere. There isn’t any published info on longevity as far as I know, but judging from experiences with related birds, yours had an exceptonally long life. Eye contact is important, as you noticed. One of the first things we learn as zookeepers is to avoid eye contact in large exhibits if we want birds to stay put so we can get a good look at them…they perceive it as threatening; looking away, you can get much closer…so yours showed a good deal of trust, especially considering that they are small, on the menus of so many predators, and instinctively wary. Best regards, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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