Seaside sparrow
Ammodramus maritimus
ITIS Species Code:   179346         NatureServ Element Code:   ABPBXA0060
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  n/a Southern Piedmont:  n/a South Atl. Coastal Plain:  n/a
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

37.9 %
0.4 %
15.1 %
24.2 %
4.0 %
0.0 %
9.6 %
0.0 %
4.1 %
4.8 %
4.8 %
< 0.1 %
0.0 %

71.2 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

15.5 %
0.1 %
6.7 %
9.9 %
1.6 %
0.0 %
3.9 %
0.0 %
1.7 %
< 0.1 %
1.9 %
< 0.1 %
58.6 %

29.1 %
A strict maritime species (Harrison 1975). Commonly breeds in the Central Coast section, less commonly in other parts of the coastal plain (Fussell 1994), and fairly commonly on the barrier islands (Fussell and Lyons 1990).

Breeds in regularly flooded salt marshes (Fussell 1994) and brackish marshes (Harrison 1975).

May live in the wettest part of the marsh (Rising and Beadle 1996), or may place nest in a higher part of marsh not usually flooded. It is built on the ground on a dense mat of dried rushes, seaweed, or grasses, or among pieces of driftwood. It may also be placed a few inches above the ground in stems of sedge (Harrison 1975), or 7 inches to 14 feet high in a shrub or grasses (Rising and Beadle 1996). The nest is often covered by surrounding vegetation, which is woven into the nest. Nests in loose colonies (Ehrlich et al. 1988).


BREEDING: A habitat specialist that occupies coastal tidal marshes throughout its range (Kale 1983, Robbins 1983). One (A. M. MIRABILIS) population in Florida commonly occurs in freshwater MUHLENBERGIA (M. FILIPES, a tussock grass) prairie (Werner and Woolfenden 1983), and another near Charleston, South Carolina, evidently avoids the outer coastal marshes for breeding and uses brackish, more sheltered marshes away from the coast (Sprunt and Chamberlain 1970). Northeastern birds occupy both high marsh (dominated by salt meadow vegetation including salt-meadow grass (SPARTINA PATENS), black-grass (JUNCUS GERARDI), glasswort (SALICORNIA spp.), and marsh elder (IVA FRUTESCENS)), and low marsh (mainly various ecological forms of smooth cordgrass (SPARTINA ALTERNIFLORA)) habitats (Woolfenden 1956, Post 1970, 1970, 1974, Reinert et al. 1981, Greenlaw 1983, Marshall and Reinert 1990). Descriptions of habitat elsewhere in the range can be found in Nicholson (1928, 1946), Tomkins (1941), Sprunt and Chamberlain (1970), Werner (1975), Sykes (1980), Post (1981), Kale (1983), Post et al. (1983), and Werner and Woolfenden (1983).

A patchy or discontinuous distribution on local marshes is exhibited throughout the range. The composition and physiognomic characteristics of occupied marsh vegetation are varied and reflect a behavioral opportunism in using available substrate (Greenlaw 1983, Post et al. 1983). Two biologically significant habitat characteristics evidently shared by most or all breeding populations are: (1) suitable elevated nest sites that offer protection from periodic tidal and storm-related flooding, and (2) nearby openings in the vegetation, or pool and ditch edges that permit access to the bases of rooted plants and open mud during foraging (Greenlaw 1992). Different microhabitats fulfill these divergent requirements for nesting and feeding. In low marshes in New York and New England, nests are commonly in areas of medium-height cordgrass (40-100 cm) growing densely enough to form a turf of partly clumped, semi-erect, persistent stems in the spring. Stands of dwarf cordgrass at or near mean high water level, and tall, open stands in the lower intertidal zone are avoided as nesting substrates. In high marshes, sparrows nest on IVA-dominated spoil deposits, or in IVA/salt meadow ecotones on the inner marsh, but they shun extensive areas of pure salt meadow grasses. Optimum habitat contains nesting and feeding microhabitats in close proximity, otherwise sparrows commute between a nest-centered territory and more distant undefended (but see DeRagon 1988) feeding areas (Tomkins 1941, Woolfenden 1956, Post 1974, Greenlaw 1983, 1992, Post et al. 1983, Marshall 1986, DeRagon 1988, Marshall and Reinert 1990).

NEST SITES: Typically elevated high enough in suitable vegetation to minimize the problem of normal flooding and low enough to be sheltered from predators and weather (Woolfenden 1956, Greenlaw 1983, Post et al. 1983, DeRagon 1988, Marshall and Reinert 1990). In New York, mid-summer nests suspended in new-growth cordgrass averaged 19.0 cm above the mud (Post 1974). Early nests are typically placed in clumps of residual cordgrass, but later nests are in the vegetation column between erect, live culms of cordgrass (Post 1974, Marshall and Reinert 1990). In the latter case, the tops of the grasses are often pulled over the nest to form a canopy (Greenlaw, pers. obs.). Occasionally, nests are placed one to four m above the ground in a shrub (usually IVA spp. in the Northeast) or small tree (Arnow 1906, Woolfenden 1956, Marshall 1986, Greenlaw 1992). In Florida, the activity of predatory rats influences nest site use by sparrows (Post 1981).

NON-BREEDING: Populations along the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts are nonmigratory and continue to occupy their breeding marshes during the nonbreeding season. In some of these populations, there may be local or regional dispersal as birds respond to seasonal changes in food. Near Charleston, South Carolina, young leave the brackish, subcoastal, breeding marshes shortly after they are able to fly and move into the outer coastal marshes (Sprunt and Chamberlain 1970). In New York, post-breeding birds frequent the tall stands of cordgrass along the bay edges where they harvest the rich supply of seed (Greenlaw 1992). Beyond the fact that the birds remain in tidal marshes during the winter, little is known about the characteristics of the wintering habitat of northeastern sparrows.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
3 Tidal Marsh Fresh and brackish tidal marshes, including cord grass, wild rice, sawgrass and needlerush alliances. Brackish Marsh, Interdune pond, Maritime wet grassland
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Nicholson, D. J. 1928. Nesting habits of the seaside sparrows in Florda. Wilson Bulletin 40:225-37.

Tomkins, I. R., 1941. Notes on MacGillivray's Seaside Sparrow. Auk 58:38-51.

Sykes, P. W., Jr. 1980. Decline and disappearance of the dusky seaside sparrow from Merritt Island, Florida. American Birds 34:728-37.

Post, W. 1981. Breeding bird census no. 44:salt marsh. American Birds 35:99, 104.

Reinert, S. E., F. C. Golet, and W. R. DeRagon. 1981. Avian use of ditched and unditched salt marshes in southeastern New England:a preliminary report. Pages 1-23 in Proceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Mosquito Control Association,

Zink, R.M., and J.C. Avise. 1990. Patterns of mitochondrial DNA and allozyme evolution in the avian genus AMMODRAMUS. Syst. Zool. 39:148-161.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Walters, M. J. 1992. A shadow and a song:the extinction of the dusky seaside sparrow. Chelsea Green Publishing Company 256 pp.

Fussell, J. III and M. Lyons. 1990. Birds of the Outer Banks [pamphlet]. Eastern National Parks and Monument Association Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society.

Marshall, R. M. 1986. Breeding biology and habitat selection of the seaside sparrow (AMMODRAMUS MARITIMUS MARITIMUS) in a southeastern Massachusetts salt marsh. Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Unpublished report.

DeRagon, W.R. 1988. Breeding ecology of seaside and sharp-tailed sparrows in Rhode Island salt marshes. M.S. thesis. University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island.

McDonald, M. V. 1988. Status survey of two Florida seaside sparrows and taxonomic review of the seaside sparrow assemblage. Technical Report No. 32, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, Florida.

Greenlaw, J.S. 1992. Seaside Sparrow, AMMODRAMUS MARITIMUS. Pages 211-232 in K.J. Schneider and D.M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts. 400 pp.

Post, W. 1974. Functional analysis of space-related behavior in the seaside sparrow. Ecology 55:564-75.

Fussell, J.O. III. 1994. A birderís guide to coastal North Carolina. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Post, W., and J. S. Greenlaw. 1994. Seaside sparrow (AMMODRAMUS MARITIMUS). In the Birds of North America, No. 127 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Philadelphia:The Academy of Natural Sciences. 28 pp.

Stevenson, H. M., and B. H. Anderson. 1994. The birdlife of Florida. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. 892 pp.

Nicholson, D. J. 1946. Smyrna seaside sparrow. Florida Nat. 19:39-42.

Woolfenden, G. E. 1956. Comparative breeding behavior of AMMOSPIZA CAUDACUTA and A. MARITIMA. Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist., University of Kansas 10:45-75.

Greenlaw, J.S. 1983. Microgeographic distribution of breeding seaside sparrows on New York salt marshes. Pages 99-114 in T.L. Quay, J.B. Funderburg, Jr., D.S. Lee, E.F. Potter, and C.S. Robbins (editors), The Seaside Sparrow, its Biology and Management. O

Kale, H.W. 1983. Distribution, habitat, and status of breeding Seaside Sparrows in Florida. Pages 41-48 in T.L. Quay, J.B. Funderburg, Jr., D.S. Lee, E. F. Potter, and C.S. Robbins, editors. The Seaside Sparrow:its biology and management. Occas. Pap. Nort

Post, W., J. S. Greenlaw, T. L. Merriam, and L. A. Wood. 1983. Comparative ecology of northern and southern populations of the seaside sparrow. Pages 123-36 in T. L. Quay, J. B. Funderburg, Jr., D. S. Lee, E. F. Potter, and C. S. Robbins (editors). The Se

Robbins, C. S. 1983. Distribution and migration of seaside sparrows. Pages 31-40 in T. L. Quay, J. B. Funderburg, Jr., D. S. Lee, E. F. Potter, and C. S. Robbins (editors). The Seaside Sparrow, its Biology and Management. Occas. Papers North Carolina Biol

Marshall, R. M., and S. E. Reinert. 1990. Breeding ecology of seaside sparrows in a Massachusetts salt marsh. Wilson Bull. 102:501-513.

Stoll, M. J., and F. C. Golet. 1983. Status of the seaside sparrow in Rhode Island. Aud. Soc. Rhode Island Rep. 17:57-61.

Werner, H. W., and G. E. Woolfenden. 1983. The Cape Sable sparrow:its habitat, habits, and history. Pages 55-75 in T. L. Quay, J. B. Funderburg, Jr., D. S. Lee, E. F. Potter, and C. S. Robbins (editors). The Seaside Sparrow, its Biology and Management. Oc

Sprunt, A., and E. B. Chamberlain. 1970. South Carolina bird life. Second edition. Univ. South Carolina Press, Columbia. 655 p.

Harrison, H.H. 1975. A field guide to bird's nests in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 257 p.

Werner, H. W. 1975. The Biology of the Cape Sable Sparrow. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida. 215 pp.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Quay, T. L., et al., editors. 1983. The seaside sparrow, its biology and management. Occas. Pap. North Carolina Biol. Surv. 1983-5. 174 pp.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook:a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Shuster, Inc., New York. xxx + 785 pp.

Post, W. 1970. Breeding bird census no. 46:salt marsh. Audubon Field Notes 24:771-772.

Post, W. 1970. Breeding bird census no. 47:ditched salt marsh. Audubon Field Notes 24:772-3.

Arnow, I. F. 1906. The seaside sparrow nesting in bushes. Auk 23:226.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853