Living Bird Magazine
Instant ID help for 650+ North American birds.Try Merlin Bird ID
Wearing orange-buff, leaden gray, and rusty brown, Saltmarsh Sparrows are flashes of color hidden in the brown expanses of tidal saltmarshes, their only home. Look for them breeding in marshes of cordgrass, saltgrass, and needlerush that line the Atlantic coast from southern Maine to Virginia; and wintering between Delaware and Florida. Nesting low in tidal marshes, these birds have a tenuous relationship with high tides—the highest of which sometimes inundate the nests briefly. Because of this razor-thin margin for error, Saltmarsh Sparrows are gravely threatened by global sea level rise.More ID Info
It takes patience to find Saltmarsh Sparrows. Females tend to remain hidden, and males sing unpredictably, often hidden by vegetation, in the large areas they roam. Listen carefully for the rather quiet song; you may need to listen “through” a chorus of louder wrens, blackbirds, rails, and other species. Also look for Saltmarsh Sparrows occasionally feeding on the muddy margins of marshes, or during very high tides taking refuge from the high water in shrubs along roadsides. Fall migrants form small flocks, feed on seeds, and can often be coaxed into view by pishing. In winter they are less conspicuous and also less responsive to pishing.