WatchList Species Account for Nelson’s Sparrow
(Ammodramus nelsoni)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Mountain Quail
Photo: Peter LaTourrette

In 1995 the Sharp-tailed Sparrow was split into two species: the Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus), that breeds along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Virginia, and Nelson’s Sparrow, which breeds from Maine north into eastern Canada and also along the western and southern shore of Hudson Bay and in western and northern Canada from the southwestern corner of the Northwest Territories and northeastern British Columbia south primarily through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the Dakotas, eastern Montana and western Minnesota.


The Nelson’s Sparrow overwinters along the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S., where it overlaps considerably with the winter range of the Saltmarsh Sparrow. Its habitat is tidal saltwater coastal marshes in the eastern part of its range, and in wet meadows and freshwater marshes with cordgrass, phragmites and other grasses in the northern Great Plains.


Males do not defend territories, but move around the marsh, singing to attract females. Because the bird is difficult to census and nests primarily in remote locations, there is little information from which to draw conclusions on its population trends.


Draining of wetlands and removal of vegetation by burning or mowing during nesting season may cause local extirpation of Nelson's Sparrow populations. Though the bird is said to be locally common in parts of North Dakota, populations within its range are generally scattered and small.