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Saltmarsh Sparrow

Ammodramus caudacutus

Length: 5.25 inches Wingspan: 7 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Bright buffy face with grayish-brown cheek, dark crown with gray central stripe, strong streaking on flanks, white belly, pale buff on sides

Saltmarsh Sparrow - Ammodramus caudacutusDespite their very different geographic ranges and preferred habitats, the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the Nelson's Sparrow were only recently split into two species, having once been known under the single species name of "Sharp-tailed Sparrow".  The Saltmarsh Sparrow is well named, found in coastal saltwater wetlands along the Atlantic Coast of the United States.  There are small areas where the two species may overlap in range, but they can be differentiated by the different songs sung by the males, by the longer bill of the Saltmarsh Sparrow, and by the more well-defined border between belly and chest on the Nelson's Sparrow.

Habitat: Found in coastal salt marshes along the Atlantic Coast of the United States.  They can also sometimes be found in brackish or freshwater marshes that are very near the coast.

Diet: Feeds on insects and other small invertebrates, including small marine creatures such as snails, marine worms, and tiny crabs.  They will also sometimes eat seeds, particularly in the winter months when invertebrates may be less abundant.

Behavior: Forages by walking along the ground, or by clambering through the marsh vegetation.  They will also sometimes probe in the mud or sand in search of small marine invertebrates.

Nesting: The nest of a Saltmarsh Sparrow is a cup of grasses, placed in marsh grasses just above the level of high tide.  The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  When the eggs hatch, the female alone feeds and tends them.  The young fledge after about 10 days, but typically stay in the care of the female for another 2 weeks.  Saltmarsh Sparrows will often raise more than one brood in a summer season.

Song: Song of a Saltmarsh Sparrow is a soft, rapid series of fading gurgles and hisses.

Migration: Considered a permanent resident in parts of their normal range.  However, some migration along the Atlantic Coast does occur, with birds at the northern end of the range moving southward, and birds found in winter range where birds are not found during the summer months.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Saltmarsh Sparrow sightings

Similar Species: Nelson's Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow

Conservation Status: The IUCN currently lists the Saltmarsh Sparrow as a "Vulnerable" species.  Loss of coastal wetland habitat has greatly reduced suitable breeding areas for the species, with populations now much more fragmented than they were historically. 

Further Information: 1) BirdLife International - Saltmarsh Sparrow

2) Whatbird - Saltmarsh Sparrow

3) - Saltmarsh Sparrow

Photo Information: Photo taken by Matt Tillett - June 15th, 2011 - Dorchester County, Maryland - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Saltmarsh Sparrow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Saltmarsh Sparrow Photos (coming soon!!)