Vesper Sparrow

Species Name: Setophaga americana

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Species Distribution in Massachusetts

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Federal Rank: None

Massachusetts State Rank: Threatened

Habitat Description

Typically dry, well-drained sites with a mixture of short grass, bare ground, and shrubs, trees, or other high structures from which males can sing, including telephone lines and poles. However, Vesper Sparrows are not considered forest species as they are not typically affiliated with dense shrublands or post-logging forest regeneration. Habitats in Massachusetts consist of airfields, heavily disturbed heathlands and barrens (e.g., as at military grounds), active and abandoned hayfields and cropfields, abandoned gravel pits, sandplain grasslands, coastal moors, and even a capped landfill.

Threats to Survival

Widespread use of fire, combined with agricultural development and abandonment, once temporarily increased the amount of available habitat for Vesper Sparrows in New England. However, declining farm abandonment leaving fewer unmanaged open fields, continuing fire suppression, and increasing forest succession, have led to loss of suitable breeding habitat in this region. Few natural processes in Massachusetts create and maintain habitat for the Vesper Sparrows which now rely almost exclusively on anthropogenic disturbances for breeding habitat in Massachusetts, except perhaps at the coastal moors of the Cape.

Actions Recommended to Ensure Survival

Since most populations seem to rely on anthropogenic sources of habitat, development of cost-effective management strategies is challenging. One of the biggest threats to breeding populations of Vesper Sparrow is mowing during the breeding season, which can result in destruction of nests and young. Since the breeding season may continue through August, delaying the mowing of fields until September or later is an ideal practice, especially in habitats such as airfields where mowing is not critical to production of a commodity. When delaying the mowing of fields until September is not a realistic option, waiting until at least July is recommended to allow enough time for successful production of at least one brood of young.