Ammodramus leconteii) have a similar appearance to . Differences include Le Conte’s sparrows' striped gray napes and more subtle sandy-streaked backs. (Cooper and Beauchesne, 2004; "Ammodramus nelsoni", 2011)is noted for its sunny, golden-orange color extending from the eyebrows to the breast, where it is mottled with darker stripes. The sparrow’s gray-striped crown is bordered with dark brown, and the ear coverts are gray. The olive-brown upper body and neck are notably streaked with white or gray. White extends down the abdomen to its brown, tapered tail. They are small birds; weighing in at 19 to 21 g. They measure 11 to 13 cm in length and feature a 20 cm wingspan. The more common Le Conte’s sparrows (
Three subspecies exist, based on location. Two subspecies are found in the United States and one inhabits British Columbia. Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows are sexually dimorphic. Both sexes look similar, but males are slightly larger than females. Juveniles have brown ear coverts and less distinct facial markings. (Cooper and Beauchesne, 2004; "Ammodramus nelsoni", 2011)
Male sexual behavior is a form of “scramble competition polygyny”. Males will actively survey an area in search for females. Once a female is found, the male will intercept them and attempt to copulate with the female, which is usually a forced mating. One to several males may attempt to mate with a single female at one time, or several males may mate with a single female one after the other in a short period of time. This breeding method suggests that sperm competition is an important factor in this species. Although mating is forced by the male, receptive females will perform a mating invitation display during the time she is building a nest. She will crouch with her tail and bill raised, wings folded and slightly raised, and make no vocalizations. (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994)
Females alone build the nest and incubate the eggs. Initially the female broods the nestlings frequently after hatching and then less frequently after 4 to 5 days. Brooding episodes may last up to 14 minutes, but usually are 2 to 6 minutes. Female Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows do not defend the nest if a predator is nearby. They fly off the nest and stay quiet and hidden nearby. When the nestlings are in the fledgling stage, females will give alarm calls to warn their offspring of predators. (Shriver, et al., 2011)
There is very limited data on nestling feeding. It has been observed that young feed almost exclusively on invertebrate prey. Food items are mostly found by the mother in nearby vegetation, mud and water. The male has been observed to occasionally bring food to the nest. Fledgelings remain near their mother who continues to care for them for 20 days post-fledging. (Shriver, et al., 2011)
Using banding data, the maximum observed lifespan is 10 years for males and 6 years for females. (Shriver, et al., 2011)
Estimates of minimum annual survival of adults in 2 cohorts (in New York) were 60.3% and 54.7% in males, and 63.3% and 53.0% in females. Offspring survival into first fall is estimated as 31.1%. In a 2-year study in Rhode Island, tidal flooding caused 60% of egg and nestling mortality. Flooding was also found to be the main cause of egg and nestling mortality in Canada and New York. There is little known regarding causes of adult mortality. (Shriver, et al., 2011)
Observed meetings between males is usually only when one male actively forces another male off a perch or one male retreats as another approaches. Dominance between males during breeding season has yet to be better understood. A singing male may cease singing when another male approaches or sings nearby, but counter-singing has not been observed. There is a loose dominance hierarchy apparent within different subspecies of (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994). In New York, females have been observed fighting with males or chasing them off when the male tries to force the female into mating. Females will often chase males out of the immediate nesting area. They will use threatening calls or displays to ward off males. In New Brunswick, females have been observed to be more passive towards males.
Males are non-territorial. They typically concentrate their daily activities in large overlapping home ranges. Flight paths of males will cross and perching sites are often shared by several males. Male home ranges are estimated to be between 1.2 to 1.6 ha in New Jersey and 3.0 to 5.7 ha in New York. The home range size for males in Canada is unknown, but believed to be much larger than the southern populations. (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994)
Males use songs to attract females, but unlike many songbirds they do not use this song to establish territory. They often sing in flight. Their most common song can be mnemonically described as 'k-chinnnng doot' and sounds like two short chips with a dry hiss in between. Females use warning calls to alert offspring of danger and threatening calls to ward off males from nests. No observations of female songs have been made. Females also use body posture to communicate willingness to mate. When a female encounters a male and is ready to breed, she may crouch with her tail and bill raised, and hold her wings folded and slightly raised. Like most birds, (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994)perceives its environment through visual, auditory, chemical, and tactile stimuli.
Females silently abandon their nests and hide when a potential ground predator comes near. She will give warning calls when dependent young are present and fly within 10 to 15 m of nest. Females return to the nest after the potential predator leaves the immediate nest area. An alarm call may be given when an aerial predator approaches, but typically the sparrows silently find cover. No nest-distraction displays have been recorded. Like most sparrows, their plumage features stripes in shades of brown, gray, and black that blend in well with their grassy environments. Known predators on adults and nests include northern harriers, short-eared owls, fish crows, Norway rats, and garter snakes. Though not confirmed, suspected predators include herons, egrets, glossy ibises, American crows, and black snakes. (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994)
As omnivores, these sparrows likely affect local seed distribution as well as insect populations. The adults and young also serve as food for several aerial and land predators. Nest parasitism sometimes occurs in Molothrus ater). (Greenlaw and Rising, 1994)nests. The only documented brood parasites for this species are brown-headed cowbirds (
Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows do not have any economic benefits for humans.
There are no known negative effects of Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrows on humans.
The main threat to ("Ammodramus nelsoni", 2011)is habitat loss due to human destruction; mostly because of conversion of grassland and marshes for agricultural uses. Because specific water depth is important to the species, it is essential to protect large areas of habitat to make certain that the ideal water conditions are present in at least a few areas within a wetland. Currently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists this species as Least Concern and considers the population to be stable and widespread. However, increasing human development and resulting habitat loss should be monitored closely. As a migratory species, is protected under the United States Migratory Bird Act.
Beth Twaddle (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.
areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.
parental care is carried out by females
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
uses sight to communicate
MN DNR. 2011. "Ammodramus nelsoni" (On-line). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed April 27, 2011 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us.
BirdLife International. 2009. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Ammodramus nelsoni" (On-line). International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Accessed May 18, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/150504/0.
Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 2011. "Nelson's Sparrow — Ammodramus nelsoni" (On-line). Montana Field Guide. Accessed May 01, 2011 at http://fieldguide.mt.gov/detail_ABPBXA0070.aspx.
Cooper, J., S. Beauchesne. 2004. "Nelson's Sharp-tailed sparrow" (On-line). British Columbian Government. Accessed May 01, 2011 at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/frpa/iwms/documents/Birds/b_nelsonssharptailedsparrow.pdf.
Greenlaw, J., J. Rising. 1994. Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus). The Birds of North America Online, 112: Online. Accessed May 03, 2011 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/112 doi:10.2173/bna.112.
Shriver, W., T. Hodgman, . Hanson. 2011. Nelson's Sparrow. The Birds of North America (Online), 719: Online. Accessed May 03, 2011 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/719/articles.
Woolfenden, G. 2007. Wintering Distributions and Migration of Saltmarsh and Nelson's Sharp-Tailed Sparrows. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 119: 361- 377. Accessed April 27, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/20456021.