New extralimital breeding records of saltmarsh sparrows (Ammospiza caudacuta) and Nelson's sparrows (Ammospiza nelsoni) and their implications.

Academic Article


  • Saltmarsh (Ammospiza caudacuta) and Nelson's (A. nelsoni) sparrows are sister taxa that breed in tidal marshes along the coast of the Northeastern United States and Canada. The Saltmarsh Sparrow breeds from mid-coast Maine south to Virginia, while the Acadian Nelson's Sparrow breeds from the Canadian maritime provinces south to northern Massachusetts. Here, we present three extralimital observations of breeding Saltmarsh (n = 2) and Nelson's (n = 1) sparrows. In 2021 and 2022, we observed Saltmarsh Sparrow females attending nests at Mendall Marsh, ME, and Milbridge, ME, respectively, approximately 60 and 110 km beyond the documented northern extent of the Saltmarsh Sparrow breeding range. In 2022, we observed a breeding-condition male Nelson's sparrow singing in the upriver portion of a marsh on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, approximately 115 km beyond the previously documented southern extent of the Nelson's Sparrow breeding range. We confirmed morphological species identification using a panel of microsatellite DNA loci. Due to both the well-documented population declines of these species in the region and the intensity of sampling effort undertaken in recent years, we suggest that these observations likely are not indicative of range expansion. However, they do indicate that these 2 taxa have the capacity to use and successfully reproduce in marshes well beyond their established breeding limits. Our findings provide novel insight into the potential for these taxa to occur and successfully breed outside their documented breeding ranges. Given increased interest in their conservation, these results support the idea that management actions aimed at creating or maintaining nesting habitat across both species ranges could benefit both taxa.
  • Authors

  • Ruskin, Katharine J
  • Clark, Jonathan D
  • Hotopp, Alice
  • Kovach, Adrienne
  • Guido, Nicole A
  • Hernandez, Dean L
  • Peña, Colin
  • Webb, Samantha N
  • Shriver, W Gregory
  • Publication Date

  • September 2023
  • Published In


  • Ammospiza caudacuta
  • Ammospiza nelsoni
  • range expansion
  • sharp‐tailed sparrows
  • tidal marsh
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • e10532
  • Volume

  • 13
  • Issue

  • 9