IUCN threat status:

Vulnerable (VU)

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Ammodramus caudacutus

The Saltmarsh Sparrow is a relatively recent addition to field guides to the birds of North America. This species, formerly known as the Sharp-tailed Sparrow, was recently split into two new species: today’s Saltmarsh Sparrow and Nelson’s Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni). This medium-sized (5 1/2 inches) sparrow has a gray back, a white breast streaked with black, tail-feathers with jagged edges, and a golden face with gray cheek-patches. The Saltmarsh Sparrow includes two subspecies, one which breeds from the Canadian Maritime Provinces south to New England, and the other which breeds in the Mid-Atlantic region south to the Chesapeake Bay. The Mid-Atlantic subspecies may be found in this region all year, but individuals of both subspecies migrate further south along the coast in winter, when they may be found from North Carolina to Florida. As its name might suggest, this sparrow inhabits the outer fringes of salt marshes, where it eats insects and larvae off the blades and stalks of marsh grasses. This species has an unusually short breeding cycle, progressing from egg-laying to fledging in less than 28 days. This fast-paced cycle allows chicks to be reared between spring (or ‘highest of the high’) tides, which flood this species’ breeding sites approximately once a month. Saltmarsh Sparrows are most easily observed foraging near the tops of marsh grasses. They may also be seen flying short distances above the grass between feeding areas. This species is primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Vulnerable


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