DEEP: Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Project Initiated

Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Project Initiated
Adapted from an article that appeared in the September/October 2002 issue of  Connecticut Wildlife.

{Saltmarsh sparrow}
The saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow prefers the drier part of salt marshes.

This past summer researchers at the University of Connecticut, in collaboration with Patrick Comins (Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon - Connecticut), began a study of saltmarsh sparrows along the Connecticut coast. This project is primarily being funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís Long Island Sound Study, along with financial support from the DEP Endangered Species Tax Check-Off Fund and the DEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs.

The project has a variety of goals relating to the conservation of breeding populations of saltmarsh sharp-tailed and seaside sparrows, both of which are very high conservation priorities in southern New England. In particular the researchers are trying to develop better ways to monitor these species, and to determine exactly how abundant they are. They also are interested in learning more about movement patterns of these birds, both within and among marshes, during late summer and fall. Finally, they hope to learn more about the migration timing and distribution of a third species, Nelsonís sharp-tailed sparrow, which only occurs in Connecticut during migration.

How Can Birders Help?
There are several ways in which birders can help the researchers. First, and most importantly, the researchers want information on resightings of birds that were banded during the summer. A major banding effort was undertaken at marshes in Guilford, Madison and Westbrook and several hundred birds were color banded this year. All birds have either two bands (one on each leg) or four bands (two on each leg). Birds born in 2002 have a US Bird Banding Lab metal band on one leg and a single colored band on the other. Older birds have a metal band and a color band on one leg, and two color bands on the other leg. Although seeing these bands can be challenging in the field, it is not impossible.

{Seaside sparrow}
The seaside sparrow is usually found in the wetter portions of salt marshes.

Birders visiting local salt marshes who see sparrows with leg bands are asked to note the band colors, which leg each color appeared on, and which color was on top on each leg. Other important information includes the species observed, where it was seen, when it was seen and what it was doing.

Birders also can help compile information on the post-breeding distribution of the three species being studied. The researchers are looking for information about ANY sightings of seaside sparrows, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows and especially Nelsonís sharp-tailed sparrow. Records of Nelsonís sharp-taileds from previous years will also be very useful. In each case, observers are asked to note the location (if possible include a map marking the area), the number of each species, the date and time and what the birds were doing.

Bird resightings or count data should be sent to Carina Gjerdrum gjerdrum@uconnvm.uconn.edu.

General questions about the project should be directed to Chris Elphick elphick@uconn.edu.