Swamp Sparrow Nest Monitoring

January 1, 2007 by Gregory Gough

Scientists traditionally monitor bird nests with two outcomes in mind, either the nest is successful, meaning one or more chicks survive to fledge; or it fails.

In the case of the coastal plain swamp sparrow, a subspecies of the swamp sparrow that nests in mid-Atlantic tidal marshes, the failure of a nest might be due to contradictory factors: place the nest too low and it is vulnerable to flooding, place it too high and it becomes visible to predators.

A new method of analysis, Markov chain nest-failure models, was used to look at the different reasons for nest failure at a study site in Woodland Beach, Delaware.

The time of year, and the particular year, were found to be the best explanations for a nest's fate. The swamp sparrow nesting season is long, from early May to the end of August. Earlier nests fare better.

The amount of vegetation obscuring the nest was also important, but the surprise was that the more cover, the worse the nest fate. This may be due to the fact that the marshes the birds nest in are slow to leaf out in the spring, there is more vegetation by the late summer, which is when the nests are more likely to fail. It is unknown why late season nests would be more likely to fail.

This article summarizes the information in this scientific paper:

Etterson, Matthew A., Olsen, Brian and Greenberg, Russell S. 2007. The Analysis of Covariates in Multi-Fate Markov Chain Nest-Failure Models. Studies in Avian Biology, 34: 55-64.

Download scientific paper