Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Priority Bird

Seaside Sparrow

Ammodramus maritimus

No other songbird in North America is so closely tied to salt marsh as the Seaside Sparrow. Except for a few populations in Florida, it is almost never found away from tidal marshes along the immediate coast. With a patchy and disjunct habitat, this species has evolved a number of well-marked local races. One of these, the "Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow, was not discovered until 1918; another, the "Dusky" Seaside Sparrow, recently became extinct despite major efforts by conservationists.
Conservation status "Dusky" Seaside Sparrow became extinct in 1987; "Cape Sable" form is localized and vulnerable, as are some other populations. Species as a whole has declined owing to destruction of coastal marshes.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Salt marshes. Lives in tidal marshes along coast, favoring areas with dense tall growth above level of highest tides and with openings and edges for foraging. Habitats often feature spartina, rushes, and saltgrass. In Florida, extinct "Dusky" Seaside Sparrow nested in fresh or brackish marsh in some areas, and "Cape Sable" form still does so in parts of extreme southern Florida.
No other songbird in North America is so closely tied to salt marsh as the Seaside Sparrow. Except for a few populations in Florida, it is almost never found away from tidal marshes along the immediate coast. With a patchy and disjunct habitat, this species has evolved a number of well-marked local races. One of these, the "Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow, was not discovered until 1918; another, the "Dusky" Seaside Sparrow, recently became extinct despite major efforts by conservationists.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Atlantic
  • adult, Gulf Coast
  • adult, Cape Sable
  • adult, Atlantic
  • adult, Cape Sable
Feeding Behavior

Forages on the ground at edge of water, and in low growth such as cordgrass and salicornia. May probe in mud or pick items from surface of vegetation.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Bluish white to very pale gray, with blotches of brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching, but unable to fly well for at least another week. Parents may feed young for 2-3 weeks after they fledge. 1-2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-11 days after hatching, but unable to fly well for at least another week. Parents may feed young for 2-3 weeks after they fledge. 1-2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects, other invertebrates, and seeds. Diet varies with season and location, but major items include grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, small crabs, snails, amphipods, and marine worms. Also eats many seeds, especially in fall and winter, including those of cordgrass and saltbush.


Nesting

During courtship, male follows female, frequently raising his wings and singing. In non-migratory southern populations, members of pair may remain together on nesting territory all year. Nest site is in low marsh vegetation, a few inches above level of highest tides. Nest (built by female alone) is an open cup of grass, lined with finer grasses. Usually has at least a partial cover or canopy built by bird or provided by surrounding plants.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Many birds probably non-migratory, although some depart in fall from northernmost part of breeding range and a few spend the winter south of known breeding areas in Florida and Texas.

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Migration

Many birds probably non-migratory, although some depart in fall from northernmost part of breeding range and a few spend the winter south of known breeding areas in Florida and Texas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
2 short, sharp notes followed by a buzzy zeeee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
New World Sparrows Perching Birds

Seaside Sparrow

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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