Saltmarsh Sparrow

Ammospiza nigrescens

Image of a saltmarsh sparrow, Ammospiza nigrescens, on a branch
Image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region on Flickr, public domain

Physical: The Saltmarsh Sparrow displays a subtle beauty with its understated yet intricate plumage. Both males and females have a warm buffy or reddish-brown hue on the chest with some fine streaking, a sharp white throat, and a light gray face. Their back features a combination of browns and grays in a mottled pattern. This bird is relatively small, measuring around 4.5 to 5.5 inches in length.

Habitat: True to its name, the Saltmarsh Sparrow primarily inhabits tidal salt marshes along the eastern coast of the U.S. These areas, rich in cordgrass and rushes, offer both feeding grounds and nesting sites for these birds.

Feeding: These sparrows primarily scour the ground for a diverse menu of insects, spiders, and occasionally seeds, especially during the winter months. Their diet adjusts with seasonal availability, and they’re particularly fond of beetles, grasshoppers, and dragonflies during warmer months.

Breeding: Nests are typically crafted close to the ground in clumps of grass within the high tide line. A unique challenge for these sparrows is the semi-aquatic nature of their nesting habitat; they must time their breeding to avoid having nests inundated during the highest spring tides. A typical clutch consists of 3-5 eggs. Once the young are hatched, both parents play a role in feeding and tending to them.

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