We examined nest-site selection and nesting success in Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed (Ammodramus caudacutus) and Seaside Sparrows (A. maritimus), at seven sites in Connecticut. We found 160 Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow nests and 23 Seaside Sparrow nests, and compared characteristics of their locations to each other and to random locations. We tracked success of all nests, quantified nest productivity and causes of nest losses, and tested for habitat differences between successful and unsuccessful nests. Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows nested in higher than average locations, where the vegetation was taller and more dense than at random locations, where there was a deep layer of thatch, and where saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) dominated the vegetation. There was little evidence that habitat characteristics influenced the success of nesting birds, but the timing of nest initiation relative to spring tides was important. Seaside Sparrow nests occurred in even taller vegetation, that was more sparse than average and dominated by the tall form of smooth cordgrass (S. alterniflora). Habitat influenced the success of Seaside Sparrow nests, but timing did not; on average, successful nests occurred in taller vegetation. Model comparisons suggest that vegetation structure influences site selection more than species composition or inherent differences among marshes. Overall, our results indicate that nest flooding is a major threat to successful reproduction in both species, but they have different strategies to avoid flooding. Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows time their reproduction to avoid especially high tides, while Seaside Sparrows avoid flooding spatially by nesting in tall vegetation.
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