Saltmarsh Sparrow Research - Project Goals

Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows and seaside sparrows are among the top priorities for bird conservation research in southern New England. In the summer of 2002, we initiated a study of these two species in marshes along the Connecticut coast in order to improve our understanding of their conservation needs. Here, we provide an overview of the projectís goals and approaches.

extracting a sst sparrow banded sst sparrow

Estimating population size

One of our main goals is to determine how many birds there are nesting in our study marshes. To do this we are using three different methods. First, we are catching and banding birds in each of our study plots to estimate how many birds use each plot. Second, we make regular nest searches to determine how many birds are actually nesting in each plot. Finally, we are conducting point counts in each plot so that we can determine how well this method (which is much less labor intensive) can be used to describe population size.

These pictures show a saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow being removed from a mist net and another after it has had small bands placed on its legs so that it can be individually identified. For more information on bird banding visit the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory's web site.

What factors influence nesting success?

Another goal of the study is to determine what variables influence breeding success. To answer this question we are monitoring all of the nests that we find in order to determine how many young are produced and to document the reasons for nest failure. As in other sudies of saltmarsh sparrows, we have found that many nests fail due to flooding during high spring tides.

These pictures show (from left to right) a saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow nest, a nestling sharp-tailed sparrow, a seaside sparrow nestling that will soon fledge, and a juvenile saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow.
ssts nest nestling ssts nestling sesp fledged ssts

How does habitat affect sparrow use?

Using our estimates of population size, we are interested in why sparrow densities vary within and among marshes. Consequently, we are collecting detailed information on habitat conditions within each of our study plots. This picture shows UConn student, Erin King, sampling vegetation in a study plot at Hammonasset State Park.

vegetation sampling
clapper rail great egret

What about other marsh birds?

Using data from our marsh surveys, we are also interested in determining whether sparrow numbers are a good indicator of the presence or abundance of other salt marsh birds. These pictures show two other common species found in Connecticut salt marshes: a clapper rail incubating eggs (far left) and a great egret.

For more information about the study, please contact Chris Elphick.


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