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Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus


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Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
credit: Wolfgang Wander/CCSA

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Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description 5 1/2" (14 cm). The combination of dark cap, gray ear patch, bright orange-buff triangular area on the face, and white streaks on the back distinguishes the two species of sharp-tailed sparrows from all other sparrows. To tell the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow from the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, rely on range as well as the Saltmarsh's sharper and bolder breast streaks, larger bill, and decided contrast between orange face and paler breast.

Habitat Along the coast, in drier, grassy portions of salt marshes.

Observation Tips 4 or 5 brown-dotted pale blue eggs in a loosely woven cup of grass set in a tussock above the high-tide line.

Range Breeds along Atlantic coast from southern Maine to North Carolina. Winters along coast from Long Island, NY, to Florida.

Voice Complex but soft and rather infrequently heard; does not end on the low note typical of Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Discussion Both of the sharp-tailed sparrows can be frustratingly difficult to glimpse in the marsh grasses they prefer to inhabit year-round. The birds often run among the short grasses, looking for all the world like marsh-dwelling mice, and then launch themselves into the air for a short flight before diving back down into cover. Eventually, though, one or more will usually perch in the open. Patience is the key.