Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus)

Saltmarsh Sparrow

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Emberizidae | [latin] Ammodramus caudacutus | [UK] Saltmarsh Sparrow | [FR] Pinson a queue aigue | [DE] Spitzschwanz-Ammer | [ES] Sabanero de Cola Aguda | [NL] Spitsstaartgors


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Ammodramus caudacutus NA e, ne USA se USA
Ammodramus caudacutus caudacutus
Ammodramus caudacutus diversus

Physical charateristics

A marsh sparrow. Note the bright ocher-orange on the face, c
ompletely surrounding the gray ear patch. Back sharply striped with white. Much regional variation of streaking and ocher on breast and sides. Eastern coastal Sharp-tails have streaked breasts; those of inland prairies are a buffier warm ocher, almost dev
oid of streaks. Northeastern coastal birds (from Maine north) have grayer backs and blurrier streaks than those to the south.

wingspan min.: 18 cm wingspan max.: 21 cm
size min.: 11 cm size max.: 13 cm
incubation min.: 12 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 11 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America : East, Northeast USA. Ammodramus caudacutus is confined to a narrow Atlantic coastal strip of the USA from Maine south to North Carolina, with a southward shift in winter as far as Florida and north to Maryland.


Coastal and prairie marshes; strictly coastal in winter.
Breeds both far inland and on coast. Inland habitat is freshwater marsh with growth of cordgrass, phragmites, and other grasses. On coast, found mostly in salt marshes with sedges, rushes, cordgrass, saltgrass, and other typical plants; sometimes in fres
h marshes or fields adjacent to coast.


Unusual breeding system: males do not defend territories but move around large area of marsh, singing to attract females. Both sexes are promiscuous, and no pairs are formed; males take no part in caring for the eggs or young.
Site is in dense area of marsh. Coastal nests are usually just above normal high tide mark; many nests are destroyed by extreme tides. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup of grass, sometimes partially domed over, with lining of finer grass.
Eggs: 3-5, sometimes 2-6. Greenish white to pale blue-green, heavily dotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by female only, 11-12 days.
Young: Nestlings are usually fed by female alone (in northern population, male may rarely feed them also). Young leave the nest about 8-11 days after hatching, may remain with female for another 2-
3 weeks. Often 2 broods per year.

Feeding habits

Mostly insects and other invertebrates, some seeds.
Animal matter makes up much of winter diet and almost all of summer diet. Feeds on insects (including grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, ants, wasps, others), spiders, amphipods, small crabs and snails, marine worms, other invertebrates. Also eats seed
s of grasses and other marsh plants, especially in fall and winter.
Behavior: Forages while walking on the ground or while climbing in marsh plants. Picks items from surface of plants, ground, or water, and sometimes probes in mud.


This species is listed as Vulnerable because new analysis suggests that it has a small and severely fragmented range, and the area of suitable habitat is declining. Urban development is the main cause of this decline.
Localised populations have suffered throughout its range from the severe and ongoing loss, degradation and fragmentation of marshes owing to urban development. Further threats include chemical spills and other pollutants, invasive species (particularly Phragmites, which makes the habitat completely unsuitable) and sea level rise. The amount by which sea level will rise owing to climate change remains uncertain but Spartina patens dominated marsh (high marsh) may disappear or be greatly reduced in size as the large amount of development along the coast means that there is limited scope for marshes to migrate inland. To date the species has not been recorded nesting outside of high marsh habitats; the implications of sea-level rise and loss of high marsh habitats are therefore extremely serious.
Saltmarsh Sparrow status Vulnerable


Canadian prairies; Atlantic Coast. Winters mainly on Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Migration: Migrates at night. Northern and inlan
d breeders move to southern coasts in winter, with those from inland prairies mostly going to Gulf of Mexico. Small numbers winter along California coast.

Distribution map

Saltmarsh Sparrow distribution range map

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