Saltmarsh Sparrow

Hey guys welcome back. Today’s bird is a secretive sparrow with a very limited range. The saltmarsh sparrow is found in, you guessed it, saltmarshes. Their range is limited to the Atlantic coast from southern Maine to Florida. They like thickets in salt marshes and are actually very cool looking birds. Many of us think of sparrows as boring brown streaky birds. But the saltmarsh sparrow mixes the typical brown streaking colorpattern with cool gray and orange facial patterns. They have a relatively long, conical bill for a sparrow, and short tail.

In terms of color pattern, they look nearly identical to the Nelson’s sparrow. In fact, up until the 1990s, the two were considered the same species; the sharp-tailed sparrow, named for the tail feathers which often have a spiked appearance. Nelson’s sparrows have less contrasting streaks and a slightly smaller bill. In addition, they can be found much further inland. I actually stood in a marsh for almost 4 hours trying to see one last fall. I didn’t, but I did see a LeConte’s sparrow which is yet another orange marsh sparrow!

The only glimpse of a saltmarsh sparrow I have was on my first trip to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in NYC. I saw a small sparrow hopping around. It was obscured, but didn’t look like a song sparrow (of which there were many.) After being patient for a while, I caught a glimpse of its orange and gray face. I still doubted myself but after seeing one was reported in that same spot the day prior, I was more confident that it was in fact a saltmarsh sparrow.

Their limited range and nesting habitat puts the saltmarsh sparrow in a somewhat precarious position. They already have a somewhat shaky success rate since their nests run the risk of being flooded by the tides of the marshes they nest in. On top of that, rising ocean levels could make that success rate fall even further. I’m certainly glad to have seen one when I did, even if it wasn’t a great look. We’re sticking to little brown marsh birds for our next entry. Marsh wren is up next. See you then!

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