Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus)

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow
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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow fact file

Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyEmberizidae
GenusAmmodramus (1)

Despite its distinctive appearance, the quiet song and secretive behaviour of the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow mean that it can easily go unnoticed in its saltmarsh habitat (3). The head is boldly patterned, with grey cheeks flanked by bright orange stripes, and a grey crown extending down to the nape (2) (4). The upperparts are streaked blackish-brown and white, while the breast and underparts are white, with dark streaking along the flanks and upper breast (2). The tail is short and, as this species’ name suggests, has sharply pointed feathers. Juveniles have pale brown plumage across the face and chest, with dark streaks along the chest and flanks (5). A very soft, whisper-like song, ts-ts-ssss-tsik, is produced by the adult male (4).

Size
Length: 13.5 cm (2)
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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow biology

Although it will make short flights, the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow is most commonly encountered walking, running and hopping along the ground as it forages amongst the dense stands of saltmarsh vegetation for insects, spiders, marine invertebrates and seeds (4) (5).

The male saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow is promiscuous and sings throughout the nesting period, from mid-May to early August, in order to attract females (4). After mating, the female uses dry grass and seaweed to construct a cup-like nest that is attached to shrubs or grass stems, six to fifteen centimetres above the ground. The female carries out all parental care, incubating the clutch of three to five eggs for 11 to 12 days, and subsequently providing food for the chicks (2) (4). Because saltmarshes along the east coast of the U.S.A. experience a monthly flood tide, the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow must either place its nest well above the highest water level, or complete its reproductive cycle, from egg laying to fledging, in the period between successive flood tides (7).

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow range

Occupying a narrow region along the east coast of the U.S.A., the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow occurs from Maine, south to North Carolina. In the winter this species’ range shifts southward, with its southern limit in Florida and northern limit in Maryland (2).

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow habitat

One of the few bird species that has evolved to live only in saltmarshes (6), the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow is found in tidal, coastal marshland, where it lives amongst saltwater-tolerant grass species such as cordgrass, blackgrass and saltmeadow grass (2).

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow threats

Due to the high levels of development along the east coast of the U.S.A., there is limited saltmarsh habitat available for the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, and its range is patchy (2) (4). In addition to habitat destruction, the remaining fragmented areas of saltmarsh are becoming increasingly degraded by pollution (4) (8), and the invasion of non-native plant species (4) (9). A major threat to this species in the future is likely to be the rise of sea-level due to climate change (2).

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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow conservation

As part of a joint project between the bird conservation organisation, Audubon Connecticut, and the University of Connecticut, research is currently being conducted into the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow’s biology, so that an effective conservation strategy can be developed (4). In addition, the potential effects of climate change and rising sea-level on this species are being studied (2).

A number of National Wildlife Refuges support populations of the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, thereby ensuring that this species remains protected from the extensive habitat loss occurring throughout its range (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To learn more about the conservation of the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (09/04/2009) by Dr. Greg Shriver, Assistant Professor, Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware.
http://udel.edu/~gshriver

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Glossary

Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  3. Andrle, R.F. and Carroll, J.R. (1988) The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Cornell University Press, New York.
  4. Audubon (October, 2008)
    http://web1.audubon.org/science/species/watchlist/profile.php?speciesCode=salsha
  5. Cornell Lab of Ornithology (October, 2008)
    http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Saltmarsh_Sharp-tailed_Sparrow_dtl.html
  6. Shriver, G. (2009) Pers. comm.
  7. Shriver, W.G., Vickery, P.D., Hodgman, T.P. and Gibbs, J.P. (2007) Flood tides affect breeding ecology of two sympatric sharp-tailed sparrows. The Auk, 124: 552 - 560.
  8. Shriver, G., Evers, D.C., Hodgman, T.P., MacCulloch, B.J. and Taylor, R.J. (2006) Mercury in sharp-tailed sparrows breeding in coastal wetlands. Environmental Bioindicators, 1: 129 - 135.
  9. Benoit, L.K. and Askins, R.A. (1999) Impact of the spread of Phragmites on the distribution of birds in Connecticut tidal marshes. Wetlands, 19: 194 - 208.
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Image credit

Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow  
Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow

© Glen Tepke

Glen Tepke
http://www.pbase.com/gtepke

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Listen to the Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow

Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow
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Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow recordings by Gregory F. Budney

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca
New York 14850
United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

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