Back when I started birding during my youth in California, it didn’t take long for me to notice and appreciate how Northern Mockingbirds would sometimes do backflips in the air while singing. Northern Mockingbirds aren’t all that common in central Mexico, and for some reason, I rarely hear them sing here. Fortunately, I can meet my needs for acrobatic singing with our Blue-black Grassquits.

Blue-black Grassquits are tiny birds, only four inches long, that are very common in subtropical savannah habitats from Mexico to Argentina. Breeding males are a deep, irridescent blue that often looks black, although in the off season they can look buffy-brown like the females, or, more often, a blotchy combination of the two color schemes.

This male shows its full breeding color. (Photo from Paso Ancho)

And this is a much more muted female. (Photo from the following week, El Palmar)

The Blue-black Grassquit’s song isn’t much; it sounds a bit like someone trying to get your attention with an insistent, buzzy “pssst”. There were so many of them last week on my trip to Paso Ancho’s subtropical scrub, that I felt as if a 4-year-old was following me around,  desperately wanting to play with me.

Their song is, frankly, very unimpressive. But what Blue-black Grassquits lack in vocal quality, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm. For these birds jump so often while singing (up to several times each minute), that they are apparently called “johnny jump-ups” in some English-speaking areas.

Several Grassquits put on quite a show during my Paso Ancho trip. By leaving my camera on its continuous-shoot function, with manual focus, I was able to document several of one blotchy male’s oh-so-brief jumps:

Pssst! It’s me, just hanging out.

Now I’m up…


and away!

Back to hanging out.

I think I’ll do that again.



and away!

Home again, home again.

I’m telling you, when Blue-black Grassquits sing, it may not sound like much, but they commit!

The females have flair, as well.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.