Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 765–775 | Cite as

Nestling diets of coexisting salt marsh sparrows: Opportunism in a food-rich environment

  • William PostEmail author
  • Jon S. Greenlaw


The saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus) and the morphologically similar seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus) occur together in Atlantic coast salt marshes. Over 2 yr we examined food exploitation patterns to gain an understanding of how these species coexist and to characterize the trophic conditions that allow the maintenance of different mating systems within the same habitat. In the promiscuous saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, only females feed the young, while the young of the socially monogramous seaside sparrow are fed by both parents. To determine dietary patterns, we used a nonlethal method (throat constriction) to obtain food samples from nestlings. Resource states were determined by sweep-netting the vegetation and by taking cores from the marsh surface. Based on volume, the same 4 prey groups (flies, amphipods, grasshoppers, moths) composed > 80% of each species diet. The main food of both sparrows was adult and juvenile (larval and pupal) soldier flies (Stratiomyidae:Odontomyia microstomata). Measures of dietary overlap, based on resource states, indicated that nestling diets did not differ between species on a seasonal basis or over 2-wk intervals. As the season progressed, each species tracked in parallel changes in resource abundance. Diets did not diverge from what was expected if food was exploited randomly; diets frequently overlapped significantly more than expected. Interspecific resource-use patterns were congruent over 2 yr. Based on the results of this study, and on an evaluation of hypotheses based on life history information from previously published work, we conclude that food usually is not limiting for these sparrows and that resource abundance has fostered behavioral and dietary opportunism.


Salt Marsh Prey Group Salt Meadow Saltmarsh Sparrow Seaside Sparrow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Charleston MuseumCharleston
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentLong Island UniversityGreenvale

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