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This Connecticut Bird Could Be Extinct in 50 Years, Experts Warn

Chris Elphick
A nelson's sparrow and a saltmarsh sparrow at Barn Island, Connecticut. The saltmarsh sparrow could go extinct within our lifetimes, according to scientists from UConn and the University of Maine.

The Connecticut Audubon Society is warning of the possible extinction of one of the state's coastal birds: the saltmarsh sparrow.

In its 11th annual "State of the Birds" report, the Society said the saltmarsh sparrow is in danger of going extinct within the next 50 years -- due to habitat fragmentation, urban development, and sea level rise.

The bird is currently listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

"Although we are still investigating the causes of these declines, it is clear that flooding during high spring tides is the major cause of nest failure in saltmarsh sparrows," wrote UConn biologist Chris Elphick in the report.

"The restrictions to natural tidal flow created by roads and other infrastructure that crosses marshes also seem to play a major role, perhaps because the restrictions limit the flow of sediment -- which is necessary to counter-balance the effects of sea-level rise -- into the marsh," said Elphick.

Currently, it's estimated Connecticut supports a breeding population of about 1,600 saltmarsh sparrows. Population research about the birds was published in the journal Conservation Biology, through the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program

It paints a dire picture for saltmarsh sparrows, suggesting declines "by about 9 percent per year -- not only in Connecticut, but throughout their entire range," wrote Elphick. "This decline is equivalent to losing three out of every four saltmarsh sparrows since the 1990s."

Read the full 2016 Audubon State of the Birds report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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