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Maine’s sparrows are being wiped out by mercury and climate change


Song sparrow (Getty) ( BDN ) — Pollution and sea-level rise are putting Maine’s most unique birds in jeopardy.

Tidal marsh songbird offspring are less likely to survive long enough to leave the nest when the mother bird has high levels of mercury in its blood, according to new research from the University of Maine. Even so, the birds, which have already seen extreme declines over the past two decades, are more sensitive to sea level rise.

The tidal marsh is a unique habitat, situated at the border of land and sea. The birds that live there — particularly the native saltmarsh sparrow and its closely related sister species, the Acadian Nelson’s sparrow — have uniquely adapted to survive there.

“They’re one of relatively few terrestrial or land species that live in tidal marsh,” Kate Ruskin, a UMaine lecturer in ecology and environmental sciences who led the study.

The birds are also in danger. The saltmarsh sparrow, a native Maine species, is slated to be considered for Endangered Species protection in 2024 and predicted to be extinct by 2060. Previous studies from the University of Maine showed that saltmarsh sparrow populations are declining 9 percent annually across the northeastern U.S., while Acadian Nelson’s […]

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