Life history attributes of Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum ammolegus) and comparisons with other North American subspecies

The American Midland Naturalist



Ammodramus savannarum ammolegus—commonly referred to as the Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow—occurs in the desert and plains grasslands of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Sonora, Mexico. Although a subspecies of conservation concern, this is the first intensive study of its life history and breeding ecology, providing baseline data and facilitating comparisons with other North American Grasshopper Sparrow subspecies. Specifically, I found A. s. ammolegus males generally weighed less than other subspecies (16.0 ± 0.8 g) but with intermediate exposed culmen length (11.6 ± 0.5 mm) and wing chord length similar to the other two migratory subspecies (62.7 ± 1.5 mm). Territory size for A. s. ammolegus was 0.72 ± 0.37 ha, with some variation between sites and among years, possibly indicating variation in habitat quality across spatial and temporal scales. The return rate for A. s. ammolegus males was 39.2%. Nest initiation for A. s. ammolegus was early to mid-July after the monsoons had begun. Domed nests were constructed on the ground, primarily under native bunch grasses, and frequently with a tunnel extending beyond the nest rim, with nest openings oriented north. Clutch size was 3.97 ± 0.68, with no evidence of Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) nest parasitism. Extreme climate factors in the arid Southwest may have affected the life history and morphology of A. s. ammolegus as compared to other subspecies, influencing body size and mass, culmen length, breeding phenology, and nest orientation. Other geographic variation occurred in return rates, clutch size, and nest parasitism rates. The baseline data for A. s. ammolegus obtained in this study will inform future taxonomic and ecological studies as well as conservation planning. Comparisons of A. s. ammolegus morphometrics with those of other subspecies will assist field biologists in distinguishing among subspecies where they overlap, especially on wintering grounds.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Life history attributes of Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum ammolegus) and comparisons with other North American subspecies
Series title The American Midland Naturalist
DOI 10.1674/0003-0031-178.1.64
Volume 178
Issue 1
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher University of Notre Dame
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 64
Last page 81
Country United States
State Arizona
County Santa Cruz County
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