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The story begins in 1951 when a new subspecies of the swamp sparrow, Melospiza georgiana nigrescens, pictured at left (© Gerhard Hofmann), was discovered nesting in the brackish marshes of Maryland.
Most swamp sparrows range across the northern portion of North America, from Alaska to Labrador and south through the Appalachians, where they nest in freshwater wetlands and migrate to spend the winter throughout the southern United States.
But the coastal plain swamp sparrow inhabits brackish wetlands only in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland in summer. It was thought that the birds lived year round in these marshes, but none has ever been found in winter.