New York Natural Heritage Program
Seaside Sparrow
Ammodramus maritimus (Wilson, 1811)

General Description [-]
The Seaside Sparrow is a grayish-olive sparrow with dullish breast streaking, yellow spot behind the eye, and long (for a sparrow) spike-like bill.

Identifying Characteristics [-]
Both sexes look alike and subspecies in the gulf coast and Florida differ in color from populations in the northeast. Characteristics of northeastern birds are a yellow wrist, overall grayish-olive color, yellow supraloral spot (between eye and bill), no wing bars, dark moustache stripe (extends down from bill), buffy malar stripe (extends down from bill near throat), white throat, and stripped breast, sides and flanks (Post and Greenlaw 1994). The primary song resembles a Red-winged Blackbird but is more buzzy and includes a series of trills and a terminal buzz (National Geographic 1999, Post and Greenlaw 1994). Nests are described as a "simple open cup of grass stems and blades lined with finer grasses" (Post and Greenlaw 1994).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
Look for the distinct yellow supraloral spot between the eye and the bill and also the dark moustache stripe that extends down from the bill and the buffy malar stripe under it. Also useful are the overall greyish-olive color, breast streaking, as well as the bill shape.

Behavior [-]
Seaside Sparrows are monogamous for the breeding season although information on extra-pair copulation is unknown. Both sexes feed the young (Post and Greenlaw 1994). They have been described as a semi-colonial species with uneven distribution of breeding pairs occuring over homogeneous habitat; although this scattered distribution may also indicate heterogenous habitat (Post and Greenlaw 1994). Males defend nesting territories but both males and females may travel long distances away from the defended territory to feed due to the separation of habitats in tidal zones (Post and Greenlaw 1994).

Diet [-]
Feeding tends to occur in open areas with a mud substrate, also in ground litter, and at the bases of rooted grasses (Greenlaw 1983). Food is obtained by either climbing through vegetation or walking along the ground while gleaning and probing the mud with the bill (Post et al. 1983). They may also feed along the edges of pools and ditches. Seaside Sparrows eat mostly insects and spiders during the breeding season including insect larva and spider egg cases. Dipterans or flies were documented as an imporant food source in New York as well as some moth species (Merriam 1979). In the fall birds consume a much higher component of seeds in their diet (Post and Greenlaw 1994).
Seaside Sparrow Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Look for this species in coastal salt marshes in the spring and summer. The first spring arrivals in New York are April 21-26 and fall migration occurs from the end of August through October. There are regular but small numbers of winter birds reported. (Levine 1998, Post and Greenlaw 1994)
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Seaside Sparrow present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Saltmarsh Sharp-Tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus)
    The Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow occupies similar salt marsh habitat but also freshwater marshes. It is a little smaller than the Seaside Sparrow with a flat head, more crisp and darker breast streaks, and an yellowish-orange triangle on the side of the face. Both species can also be distinguished by song.