Finding and Monitoring Nests

Photo: Bryan Stokes

Finding and monitoring nests is key to learning more about the reproductive success of Saltmarsh Sparrows at Jacob's Point Salt Marsh.

A flooding event in the marsh causes all the females to synchronize the breeding cycle, starting with nest-building.  It takes three to five days to complete the nest and another four days to finish laying the eggs; the incubation period averages 12 days.  This is the most challenging time for us to try and locate nests, since the female are quite secretive and rarely leave the nest. 

Photo: © Jonathan Eckerson, Massachusetts, United States, 11 June 2016  Macaulay Library ML30091831  eBird S30173209

Searching for nests is both an art and a science and requires mentoring and patience.  The nests are distributed in a non-random pattern throughout the marsh; skill is required to avoid stepping on nests or creating paths that predators could use.

Photo: © Deirdre Robinson, Rhode Island, United States, 9 July 2016 Macaulay Library ML31032781   eBird S30611834

Photo: Deirdre Robinson

When the chicks hatch, the females make frequent trips from the nest to remove fecal sacs and capture 
food for nestlings.  After locating a female leaving the cord grass, we look for a canopy of vegetation that is concealing a nest.  It is the proverbial "Needle-in-the-Haystack" challenge.

Once found, nests are marked with a temporary and inconspicuous "flag" two meters away to try to minimize the chance that predators will use it to find nests. During the incubation period, volunteers periodically make brief visits to the nest to check the number of eggs or hatchlings.

© 2019 by the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative (SALSri)