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University of Connecticut Saltmarsh Sparrow Project

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows are among the highest conservation priority species in North America, and Nelson's Sharp-tails are not far behind. Anything birders can do to increase the knowledge base for these two species along with Seaside Sparrows will allow for much more effective conservation planning for that group of birds.


This summer (2002) researchers in Dr. Margaret Rubega's lab 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 funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the DEP Endangered Species Tax Check-Off Fund, and the DEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs, and supported by all the major bird conservation groups in the state.

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 we are trying to develop better ways to monitor these species, and to determine exactly how abundant they are.

We also are interested in learning more about movement patterns of these birds, both within and between marshes, during late summer and fall. Finally, we hope to learn more about the migration timing and distribution of a third species, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, which only occurs in Connecticut during migration.

HOW CAN YOU HELP? There are several ways in which birders can help us out. First, and most importantly, we would love to get resightings of birds we have banded during the summer. We have undertaken a major banding effort at marshes in Guilford, Madison and Westbrook and color banded several hundred birds this year. All birds have either 2 bands (one on each leg) or 4 bands (two on each leg). Birds born in 2002 will have a US Bird Banding Lab metal band on one leg and a single colored band on the other. Older birds will 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 (and is probably easier than picking out a Red-necked Stint in a flock of Semis at Milford Point!).

So, if you need a new birding challenge, we'd love for you to visit your local saltmarsh and look for sparrow legs (a good scope is a big help). If you see some with bands on them, please note the colors you see, which leg each color appeared on, and which color was on top on each leg. For example, if you see a bird with a green band on top of a metal band on it's right leg and a red band on top of a yellow band on its left leg, then send us a note that says: "Right leg (green over metal), Left leg (red over yellow)". Please also tell us which species it was, where you saw it, when you saw it, and what it was doing. Banded birds could turn up anywhere along the Connecticut coast, so please do not restrict your searching to the areas where we've banded birds.

If spying on sparrow legs just seems like too much work (it's fun honest!), then we'd also like help compiling information on the post-breeding distribution of the three species we are studying. Please send us information about ANY sightings of Seaside Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and especially Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, after the end of August. Records of Nelson's Sharp-taileds from previous years will also be very useful. In each case, please 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. If you have bird resightings or count data then please send it to Carina Gjerdrum .

If you have general questions about the project please contact Chris Elphick . Soon (say, mid-August) we will have more information about the project, including pictures of banded birds, on the web at: http://www.eeb.uconn.edu/courses/Ornithology/saltmarsh_sparrows.htm Oh yes, and there will be a reward for the person who resights the largest number of our banded birds.

Chris Elphick
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
75 North Eagleville Road,
U-43 Storrs CT 06269
(860) 486-4547 (Tel) (860) 486-6364 (Fax)