Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Katharine J Ruskin

Committee Members

Erin Grey, Alice Hotopp, Danielle Levesque, Sharon Tisher

Graduation Year

May 2022

Publication Date

Spring 5-2022


Tidal marsh sparrow species like Saltmarsh Sparrows (Ammospiza caudacuta), Nelson’s Sparrows (Ammospiza nelsoni) and Seaside Sparrows (Ammospiza maritima) are particularly vulnerable to the environmental stressors related to climate change and human activity like sea-level rise, warming temperatures, and increased coastal development, as they nest in the grasses of tidal marsh ecosystems where the principal mode of nest mortality is flooding. With increased sea-level rise, these species may not be equipped to adapt to changing tidal cycles, and thus have reduced fitness and population sizes. Saltmarsh Sparrows are experiencing sharp declines in population, so it is more vital than ever to investigate patterns in breeding behaviors, plumage wear, and latitudinal differences to develop feasible conservation strategies. My study investigates the differences in plumage wear and severity across conspecifics in Saltmarsh, Nelson’s, and Seaside Sparrows and identifies significant relationships between the date of capture, latitude, and severity of feather wear observed. I observed a decrease in plumage wear and broken feather percentage with latitude but an increase in these metrics in relation to date. Conversely, fault bars and severity displayed an increase with latitude but a decrease with date. Lastly, my findings demonstrate high amounts of feather wear in Seaside Sparrows compared to Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows.