Le Conte's Sparrow/Saltmarsh Sparrow

Ammodramus sp.
A Saltmarsh Sparrow specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The Saltmarsh Sparrow is a relatively recent addition to field guides to the birds of North America. This species, formerly known as the Sharp-tailed Sparrow, was recently split into two new species: today’s Saltmarsh Sparrow and Nelson’s Sparrow (Ammodramus nelsoni). This is a medium-sized (5 1/2 inches) sparrow species characterized by a gray back and white breast streaked with black, tail-feathers with jagged edges, and golden face with gray cheek-patch. The Saltmarsh Sparrow is made up of two subspecies, one of which breeds from the Canadian Maritime Provinces south to New England and the other of which breeds in the Mid-Atlantic region south to the Chesapeake Bay. The Mid-Atlantic subspecies lives in this region all year, but individuals of both subspecies migrate further south along the coast in winter, where they may be found from North Carolina to Florida. As its name might suggest, this sparrow inhabits the outer fringes of salt marshes, where it eats insects and larvae off the blades and stalks of marsh grasses. This species has an unusually short breeding cycle, progressing from egg-laying to fledging in less than 28 days. This fast-paced cycle allows chicks to be reared between spring (or ‘highest of the high’) tides, which flood this species’ breeding sites approximately once a month. Saltmarsh Sparrows are most easily observed foraging near the tops of marsh grasses. They may also be seen flying short distances above the grass between feeding areas. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common summer resident, early May to late October, breeding from mid-May to late August. Some may winter here. Virtually restricted to salt marshes along the Eastern Shore. Sexes are alike.

Specimen Information

This exhibit is a triangular cluster of three birds with a Salmarsh Sparrow (the larger bird on the left in the exhibit)  and two Nelson's Sparrows, one above the other, on the right (not shown here).  The Saltmarsh Sparrow in the  image above is in the lower left corner  of the imaginary triangle. 
We apologize for an incorrect reference to Le Conte's Sparrow in the exhibit.  Upon further research, our current best assessment is the one Saltmarsh and two Nelson's Sparrows, based upon their markings and the identification tag on one of the Nelson's Sparrows.  
This is the information for the Nelson's Sparrow on the grass in the lower right corner of the imaginary triangle.
Date: 5/16/1910
Collected By: Dr. EA Mearns
Locality: Smith's Island, Northampton Co. VA
Sex: Female
Catalog ID: 212891
Scientific Name in Catalog: Passerherbulus nelsoni

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Sound from xeno-canto. XC27547 Ammodramus caudacutus (Saltmarsh Sparrow)