Save the Rarest American Bird from Extinction
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Over-development and habitat loss are driving the rare Florida Grasshopper Sparrow to extinction. Take a stand!
With less than 40 nesting pairs left in the wild, grasshopper sparrows are considered North America's rarest bird, one whose song may soon be silent.
Florida was once teeming with eight species of ground sparrows that have gradually vanished from the landscape1. Habitat fragmentation and loss due to development, lack of frequent prairie fires, storm-related flooding, and high nest predation rates have caused a dramatic decline in sparrow populations over the past decades2.
The conversion of open prairie habitat to farmland has destroyed much of the critical habitats where the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow once nested3.
For years, federal authorities clashed with biologists over the best way to protect these birds after breeding them in captivity, with the former pushing to release the birds into the wild, and calls against such a practice from the latter. Some scientists argued that the birds would be virtually defenseless against predators in the wild4.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service ended the FSGP Program and the partnership with the biologists at the Rare Species Conservation Foundation, and in 2019, USFWS relocated the birds to an open research area5.
Since that first release in 2019 the sparrows have shown some resilience. The captive-raised sparrows have paired and bred with their wild counterparts, producing offspring that are breeding. Juan Oteyza of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the total wild population has jumped to more than 1205.
But the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is still on the brink. Breeding and releases are still experimental and wild populations remain low6. A unique intestinal parasite is also threatening this species, while input from the biologists already researching and practicing ways to protect this vital sparrow is all but ignored in favor of federal captive breeding programs7.
Adopting growth management plans that value adding to conservation lands and preventing the future extinction of animals is a must6. Prescribed burning has also shown to support conservation of the grasshopper sparrow's habitat, as it prevents their nesting areas from becoming overgrown and obstructs the invasion of woody plants3.
We need the federal government to work with the biologists who have dedicated years in the research and breeding program to give these rare birds a chance at survival.
Help us tell the US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Florida Wildlife Commission to work with those who can give this rare songbird a chance to survive. Sign the petition and support efforts to protect and preserve the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow!
- Jenny Staletovich, Miami Herald (14 March 2019), "North America's most endangered bird faces a new threat: feuding wildlife managers."
- Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, "Species Spotlight: The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow."
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (2022), "Florida Grasshopper Sparrow."
- Mark Jannot, National Audubon Society (2017), "Inside the Race to Save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, North America's Most Endangered Bird."
- Amy Green, WMFE (14 September 2022), "These sparrows were on the brink of extinction. Now their resilience is wowing researchers."
- Paul Gray, Ph.D., National Audubon Society (17 March 2022), "Improved Outlook Anticipated for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow."
- John R. Platt, The Revelator (31 January 2018), "Is This the Year the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Goes Extinct?"
To the US Fish and Wildlife Service and The Florida Wildlife Commission,
The captive breeding programs that have helped the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow bounce back from the brink of extinction have shown positive results, but there is still great danger facing this species.
To date more than 85% of Florida's dry prairie land, on which the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow makes its home, has been destroyed. Scientists have also identified an intestinal parasite that is threatening the survival of the species as well.
Successful breeding programs are a good start but only through federal cooperation with the biologists who have already dedicated years ito researching these rare birds will give this species a chance at survival.
The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group composed of managers of properties the sparrows occupy, researchers, federal and state wildlife agencies, and the National Audubon Society is doing a fine job of managing the sparrows' habitat to the best standard possible. What we need now is to maintain an intensive research effort examining threats like disease, genetics, and fire ants, as well as nest success and population change.
I ask your leaders of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the US Fish & Wildlife Service to continue funding captive breeding efforts along with growth management plans that conserve the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow's critical habitat and save this rare species from extinction.