Photos from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region's post | Things to Do in Cape May NJ

All salt marshes look the same — to the untrained eye. What we may see as a flat flooded prairie, #neighbirds the saltmarsh sparrows see an intricate tapestry with sloping hills and valleys, winding waterways, and a plethora of plant species to choose from.

In that lush green neighborhood, female sparrows carefully decide not only where to build their nests, but what materials and blueprints to use. Our staff and researchers at Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program have been monitoring nests for nearly a decade to try to determine why certain ones fail while others succeed.

It turns out, what works for the sparrows of one marsh doesn’t always work for the sparrows of another! While we know nest flooding is the primary cause for species’ decline, successful nests can be made of a variety of plants, constructed in different ways, and placed in different marsh microhabitats. Researchers have found successful nests built not only in Spartina patens (salt hay), but also other marsh species like Spartina alterniflora (cordgrass) and Juncus gerardii (blackgrass). Salt marshes might all look the same to the untrained eye, but the sparrows, rising tide — and now scientists — know more.

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