At a Glance

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.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Saltwater Wetlands
Eastern Canada, Florida, Mid Atlantic, New England, Southeast, Texas
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6" (15 cm). Long-billed for a sparrow, with short spiky tail. Has striking pale spot before eye, pale whisker stripe. Usually looks dark and drab, but overall color varies with range. Habitat is one of best field marks. Endangered south Florida race, "Cape Sable Sparrow," is greenish above, heavily streaked blackish below.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Tan, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Multi-pointed, Pointed, Rounded, Short

Songs and Calls

2 short, sharp notes followed by a buzzy zeeee.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Seaside Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Seaside Sparrow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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