News and Events
Endangered Species Day Workshop
On Endangered Species Day this year, Deirdre Robinson and Jim O'Neill offered an interactive workshop about endangered species. Participants at Hamilton House in Providence actively engaged in discussions on forces that are rapidly pushing species toward extinction.
Deirdre Robinson presents at EBBA
Deirdre Robinson gave a presentation at the 100th anniversary meeting of the Eastern Bird Banding Association in Newtown Square, PA, on March 25, 2023. Preliminary findings were offered comparing the measurements of sparrows that we captured in 2022 with museum specimens that were over 100 years old. A discussion followed, raising questions about the potential impact of rising temperature on bill surface areas and leg lengths, as adaptations to dissipate body heat.
During the Summer of 2022, the SSRI carried out field work using trail cameras placed near Saltmarsh Sparrow nests at Jacob's Point in an effort to identity nest predators. Although we had limited success, we had one major finding: we captured two instances where it appeared that White-tailed Deer were eating SALS eggs out of the nests. To our knowledge, this is the first recorded evidence of this behavior in a salt marsh environment. White-tailed deer have been seen to eat eggs of ground-nesting birds in other environments, so this is not too surprising. The results of our study will appear this spring in the journal Northeastern Naturalist. In the meantime, we've provided a link (above) to a pre-publication copy of the article. Since deer are a very abundant, this finding provides a new challenge to those working to improve the survival odds for threatened saltmarsh birds.
Joel Eckerson presented on possible changes in Saltmarsh Sparrows due to climate change at the 100th annual meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists
A full report of this research will be published in the coming year. Here is a brief summary.
Saltmarsh Sparrows (SALS) are obligate saltmarsh specialists that breed in habitats that are open and unshaded, where fresh water is limited, and convective winds are common. Thermoregulation has been suggested as a driver in selecting bill size, since larger surface areas radiate more heat. We explored whether Allen's Rule (extremities vary in size with temperature) would apply to SALS morphometrics by comparing 64 modern adults captured in the 2022 breeding season at Jacob's Point in Warren, RI, with 57 adult SALS museum specimens that were collected in June-August between 1860 and 1930 at similar latitudes. Using a digital caliper, one team member measured the Nalospi, bill Height and Width at the same distal nares site; tarsus, and wing chord of all 121 birds. We calculated bill surface area (SA) using the formula SA=(H+W)/4*N*π. We calculated means and standard deviations and conducted t-tests. Although the sexes are monomorphic, males are exposed to more UV radiation and heat than females due to behavioral differences; we hypothesized that if selection acts toward larger bill surface area, it would likely be evident in males. There were no significant changes in any metrics for females. With the exception of longer wing chords in males vs females in the modern samples (57.66mm vs 54.41mm, p=0.000), there was no sexual dimorphism. However, we did find a significant decrease in bill SA in modern males vs museum specimens (21.28mm vs. 20.34mm, p=0.008), which is counter-intuitive. We also found increasing mean tarsus length in over time (19.08mm vs 20.62mm, p=0.000), which may act as a thermoregulatory appendage in this species as temperature has increased over the past 160 years.
Seekonk High School AP Biology Class Visits SSRI Study Site
At the request of Seekonk High School biology teacher Angela Cunard, SSRI Co-Director Steve Reinert met Ms. Cunard's AP Biology class at the Audubon Aquarium and Nature Center in Bristol. The group, including the high school librarian, Sue Larson, walked to the Jacob's Point salt marsh where Steve spent an hour discussing salt marsh formation, the relationship of the lunar and tidal cycles, and the breeding ecology of the Saltmarsh Sparrow. Steve stressed the threat that rising sea levels present to the sparrows, and urged students to "think globally and act locally" towards combating the negative impacts of climate change on our estuaries.
Jim O’Neill Named as SSRI Co-Director
Because of his many contributions to the SSRI team for the past four years and the leadership role he is assuming for the team’s 2022 field efforts, Jim O’Neill (see bio here) will join Deirdre Robinson and Steve Reinert as SSRI Co-Directors. Jim’s breadth of skills—whether it be using GPS to map nests, building share-able web pages for entering field observations, generating maps of our study site, or managing the SSRI web site at www.salsri.org—our team simply could not have met its research goals without his contributions.
Jim is the Swiss Army Knife on our team. Whatever needs to be done—building bridges over creeks, banding birds, repairing net-poles, or providing technical solutions—Jim does it competently and with good nature. Biking to Jacob's Point, Jim has likely witnessed more sunrises in the past 4 years than during his decades-long previous career. Yet the sun never seems to set on his willingness to be the Help Desk for all team members.
During the 2022 field season, Jim is directing SSRI's first intervention project. He will use a Godzala grant from the RI Natural History Survey to purchase motion-detection cameras to identify the predators of Saltmarsh Sparrow nests. Eventually we hope to receive permits to test designs of wire-mesh baffles to protect eggs and nestlings of this threatened species.
Olivia McCarthy who interned with SSRI last summer has written a new article about our summer 2021 study of the vegetation surrounding Saltmarsh Sparrows nest sites. Is the presence of high tide bush near nests associated with greater success in fledging young?
Kylie Rezendes who interned with SSRI last summer has written a new article about her observations of the raptors of Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown RI during the fall of 2021.
Steve Reinert has written a new article about his observations of the birds of Brickyard Pond in Barrington RI. The article focuses on the water bird community of the pond and the quantity of fish needed to sustain it.
SSRI team members aren't solely interested in Saltmarsh Sparrows! Co-founder Steve Reinert along with three colleagues has published a new article on the warblers of Swan Point Cemetery in a recent special issue of Rhode Island Naturalist from the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.
Rhode Island Naturalist has just published a guide to aging SALS nestlings written by Deirdre Robinson. This a photo guide was created to aid our team in determining the age of Saltmarsh Sparrow nestlings in the field. We hope it will be of service to other researchers working with SALS.
Why is it helpful to determine the age of a SALS nestling?
The short answer is that it allows researchers to document the early development in the life history of this endangered species and correlate breeding success or failure with nestling age. Finding a nest with any combination of eggs and young allows us to retroactively determine when the nest was constructed and the first egg laid. This data informs us about potential changes in the breeding cycle over time as well as how the nesting cycle is impacted by flooding or depredation events.
A report of SSRI research findings has been published as a special issue of the Rhode Island Naturalist. The paper is titled: Relationships of Nest-Site Selection and Nest Success of Saltmarsh Sparrows (Ammospiza caudacuta) in Upper Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.
Read the extraordinary story of a young Saltmarsh Sparrow born at Jacob's Point during our study and recaptured while spending the winter in February 2021 in North Carolina.
The first publication from SSRI research findings has been published in the Spring 2021 newsletter of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. The paper is titled: Relationships of Nest-Site Selection and Nest Success of Saltmarsh Sparrows (Ammospiza caudacuta) in Upper Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Use the following link to download a PDF of the Spring 2021 Rhode Island Naturalist where you'll find a condensed version of our report on page 17. The complete report will be published by RINHS within a week or two as Special Issue 1 of Rhode Island Naturalist. We will provide a link to that full report as soon as it is available.
Jacob's Point is occasionally visited by rarities. For example, see this feature article by Joel Eckerson about two documented visits to the marsh by Nelson's Sparrows, a close relative to the Saltmarsh Sparrow.
SSRI Summer 2020 Update
The Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative is having its most productive year since the initiative began its work at the Jacob’s Point salt marsh in 2017. Here is a brief update on this summer's work.
SSRI Research Highlighted in New Article by Todd McLeish
Our research work at Jacob's Point and the plight of the Saltmarsh Sparrow is the focus of a recent article by Todd McLeish in EcoRI News. Todd spoke with our team this spring and learned about the project during a visit to Jacob's Point Salt Marsh. Use this link to read the article, Volunteers Document Demise of Doomed Sparrow.
SSRI Receives Gift in Memory of Martha J. Tebbenkamp
In honor of his wife, Martha Jane Tebbenkamp, who passed away in August of 2019, Bill Reinert, brother of SSRI co-director Steve Reinert, has donated $1,500 to the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative. Martha and Bill had been married for 32 years at her passing; they lived in Portland, Oregon. She was an honored government employee, finishing her career as an inspector with the Federal Bureau of Tax and Trade. Martha loved the birds that visited her yard, especially a pair of flickers that she named Fred and Fiona, and ruby throated hummers she called Mr. and Mrs. H. She placed a variety of feeders around the yard, and nurtured blooms aimed at attracting birds.
She was passionate about animals in general, volunteering as a property inspector with the Oregon Humane Society, and donated much time, money, and goods to charities dedicated to animal and human welfare. Knowing that Martha would support the work of SSRI, Bill made the donation in her name.
Bill said, "Martha was an avid proponent of conservation, and would have been very happy to have helped this cause.
COVID-19 Causes Changes to SSRI Project for Summer 2020
On the recommendations of the North American Banding Council, and to maintain consistency with partnering Saltmarsh Sparrow research teams in the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program (SHARP), we are suspending all group bird banding operations this season, due to COVID-19. A solo bander will color-band targeted birds only. We will continue to monitor nests and tides. The workshop scheduled for May 16, 2020 is cancelled, along with all group banding dates this summer. Thank you for your interest in volunteering with this project and please check our website for updates and announcements for the 2021 banding season at Jacob's Point.
With our best wishes,
Steve, Deirdre, Jim, & Joel
Presentation at RINHS Conference
On November 15, 2019, Steve Reinert and Deirdre Robinson made a presentation at the Rhode Island Natural History Survey (RINHS) Conference. The Conference focused on "Climate Change & Rhode Island’s Natural History Future." Here is an abstract of their presentation summarizing our "A Five-Year Study of the Demographics and Breeding Ecology of the Saltmarsh Sparrow in Upper Narragansett Bay."
Preliminary Update on Summer 2019
In the third summer of our project, we banded 14 adult female and 20 adult male Saltmarsh Sparrows, and documented the return, since 2017, of 15 marked females, 33 marked males, and 3 SALS banded as nestlings. In 2019 Jacob's Point Salt Marsh provided breeding-season habitat for a minimum of 84 adult SALS (63% males). It was a great summer! Many thanks to our loyal, hard-working volunteers! Over the three years of our project, we have documented the fate, microhabitat, and elevation of 85 nests found during the three breeding seasons.
Photo credit: Deirdre Robinson
First Hatchlings of 2019
We had our first hatchlings of the 2019 first cycle on June 6th. The season is off to a great start with twenty nests found of which ten are still active.
Photo credit: Deirdre Robinson
'Canary in the Mine' for the Salt Marsh - by Deirdre Robinson, Wenley Ferguson, and Steve Reinert
The current issue of WildfloraRI, the Bulletin of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, features a cover article on our work at Jacob's Point. The issue is not available on the web; contact the RI Wild Plant Society for information on obtaining a copy.
Photo credit: Bryan Stokes
Brown University exhibited the work of Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson, visiting international Artists-in-Residence, who worked with SALSri at Jacob's Point in the summer of 2018 and representing the plight of Saltmarsh Sparrows through their media. The exhibit ran from April 6th- July 7, 2019 at the List Art Building of the David Winton Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, Providence, RI. For more information visit the Bell Gallery website.