UNCW assistant professor Raymond Danner is leading a team studying the wintering habits of two species of sparrows, with an eye on helping the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission enhance conservation efforts. The commission awarded a $234,479 grant to Danner, an ornithologist in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, for a two-year study of saltmarsh and seaside sparrows that winter along the southeastern North Carolina coast.

Seaside and saltmarsh sparrows are migratory birds and many spend the winter in the area, but not much is known about their wintering habits, said Danner, the primary investigator on the project. Most of the research will take place on Masonboro Island in the National Estuarine Research Reserve, but the project will also examine other southeastern North Carolina habitats.

“We know that a lot of the mortality for these birds occurs in winter,” Danner said. “Both of these species are considered to be species of conservation concern; it is widely argued that the populations for all of these birds are declining, and several subspecies of seaside sparrows have already gone extinct.”

In North Carolina, saltmarsh and seaside sparrows are listed as species of greatest conservation concern. The saltmarsh sparrow breeds along the Northeast coast and migrates to the Southeast in the winter. Seaside sparrows breed all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. While researchers are confident that some of the seaside sparrows that winter in coastal North Carolina breed farther north, Danner said it is not known whether the birds that breed in this area stay here or travel farther south.

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Originally published Feb. 12, 2019.