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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of A saltmarsh sparrow.Zoom+ A saltmarsh sparrow. © Glen Tepke (

Saltmarsh sparrow

Ammodramus caudacutus

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern (Breeding)



This is a small (5-6”) sparrow with a brown back and white belly with a streaked breast. It has a pale yellow-orange coloration on its head which surrounds a gray cheek. It has a fairly long pointed bill and its tail is narrow. Both sexes look alike.

The call of the saltmarsh sparrow is a gasping buzz tuptup-sheeeee which is often sung while the bird flies low over grass.

Image of Range of the saltmarsh sparrow in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the saltmarsh sparrow in New Jersey.


The saltmarsh sparrow can be found from the Gulf Coast shoreline of Florida to Forida’s Atlantic coastline, extending northward to the coast of Maine. The summer breeding range extends from northern North Carolina to Maine. Their winter range extends from southern New Jersey in the north to Florida in the south. In areas of overlap, such as southern New Jersey, they are year-round residents.

As its name implies, this species prefers coastal saltmarsh and is seldom found very far from it.


The saltmarsh sparrow feeds on small invertebrates such as insects and spiders. They also feed on seeds and grains, especially during colder months when invertebrate prey is less abundant.


The breeding season for this species in New Jersey begins in early May and lasts until late August. The nest is built by the female and consists of dry grasses, seaweed, and other plant material. It may be constructed directly on the ground or about 2 feet above the ground, built among the stems of tall saltmarsh grasses.

Between 3-5 eggs are laid and incubation is by the female only, which last about 12 days. The nestlings are altricial and are cared for by the female only. The young will leave the nest after 10 days but are dependent on their mother for another 20 days.

This species is considered to be a semi-colonial nester with several females building nests in close proximity of one another. Males, which play no role in incubation or care of young, will mate with several females.


The saltmarsh sparrow is listed in New Jersey as a Species of Special Concern (not yet endangered or threatened but possibly on its way) during its breeding season. Draining, ditching, and pollution of saltmarsh habitat have caused some populations of this species to decline. Increased human recreational activities at coastal marshes also threatens this species.

This species is difficult to detect due to their secretive nature, small size, and relative difficulty in positively identifying. Research needs to be completed to find additional breeding sites, check existing nesting areas, and determine whether the population might be decreasing or increasing within New Jersey.

Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Passeriformes
             Family: Emberizidae
                Genus: Ammodramus
                   Species: A. caudacutus

Find Related Info: Special concern

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