Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows are sneaky birds.  Starting the season as a first-time sparrow nest-searcher, finding a small grass nest in a vast grass prairie was a daunting task.  What made it worse was that these birds are not only extremely well-camouflaged, but also have an annoying habit of running around on the ground where you can’t track them.  For a long time, it seemed to me that Michelle had some kind of nest-finding superpower that field techs lacked.

Can you see the nest in this picture?  (It’s there, but I’d be very impressed if you could.)

Even close up, it’s not always obvious.

Yesterday, I finally proved to myself that it is indeed possible to find nests through skill and careful observation, rather than luck or magic.  Because we no longer needed to territory-map birds, I was able to focus all my energies on nest-searching.  My goal was to find two nests, which would have been a record for me.  Boy was I amazed when I managed to find not just two, but three active sparrow nests in one morning!  It seemed that I had finally managed to successfully internalize all the tips and tricks that Michelle had shared with me over the course of the season.

The most important of these were the following:

  1. Make yourself inconspicuous. The sparrows are very unwilling to divulge the secret of their nest location, so you have to be stealthy yourself–it often helps to crouch down and hide in tall sawgrass, or simply observe from far away.
  2. Follow the female. Males sometimes give behavioral cues (soft-singing, chipping) that may hint at a nest nearby, but it’s the females who will lead you to it.  Females may fly around a territory with the male, but if they have an active nest, they will always return to it.
  3. Keep one eye on the ground. You never know when you may stumble across a nest, so in areas of somewhat open habitat, I keep my eyes peeled for unusual balls of grass.

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Whenever you hear the phrase, “it’s a three-nest kind of day,” from now on forward, you will know that it has been an incredible morning for sparrow research!

-Irene