Funding by:

and NOAA





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The Wintering Ecology of Coastal Sparrows in North Carolina

Note: This research was completed in spring 2012 and no additional work is being conducted at this time

This project began in 2006 in collaboration with Dr. Jamie Rotenberg (UNCW Environmental Studies) and the North Carolina National Audubon Society to investigate the wintering habitat and diet of Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows (Ammodramus nelsoni and A. caudacutus) near Wilmington, NC. These sparrows, now known as simply Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows, were initially studied by Adriane Michaelis, for her Master's research project at UNCW and funded in part by a NC SeaGrant mini grant. She conducted a winter banding and sampling project in which sparrows were captured in mist nets at high tide on small islets in saltmarshes at three study sites near Wilmington in the Intracoastal Waterway and in the Masonboro Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. At least two subspecies of Nelson’s Sparrow occur in winter in these marshes along with the Saltmarsh Sparrow and resident Seaside Sparrow (A. maritimus). The primary objective of her project was to compare winter diet (from blood) and summer diet (from breast feathers molted in summer) of these species and subspecies to investigate their wintering ecology and specifically to determine if any differences in diet and habitat (ecological segregation) existed in these species while sharing wintering sites in North Carolina. Blood and feather samples were subjected to stable isotope analysis to address specific hypotheses. Adriane completed two seasons of fieldwork, capturing and banding hundreds of sparrows, and is currently preparing a publication of her results. A Ph.D. student, Ginger Winder, began work on the sparrows in 2008 with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Fellowship. She will complete two more field seasons in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011. Ginger is investigating mercury contamination in these sparrows at both wintering and breeding grounds and is expanding this research to include sampling localities at summer breeding sites in the western and northern U.S. and James Bay, Canada. The links here provide additional information on these projects and preliminary results to date.


Click the following link to view Adrian Michaelis's research poster from the 2007 Waterbirds Society meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

Adriane Michaelis's Research Poster


Click the following link to view Ginger Winder's poster that describes her research on mercury contamination in coastal sparrows.

Ginger Winder's Poster