Extinction fears spur push to breed Florida grasshopper sparrow

Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel.

Fearing that the Florida grasshopper sparrow might go extinct in as little as two years, wildlife advocates have begun pressing federal officials to approve an emergency effort to capture some of the birds and breed them in captivity.

The Central Florida bird is a subspecies of the grasshopper sparrow found only in vast, treeless prairies south of the Orlando area, including the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area in Osceola County, where the largest group of the sparrows clings to survival.

Biologists have not been able to determine what’s causing the subspecies’ rapid decline, but they suspect a long-term factor is loss of habitat and that a more recent threat might be invading fire ants that devastate the birds’ nests.

“We consider this the most endangered bird in the continental United States,” warns a letter sent last week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Audubon of Florida; Archbold Biological Station; and a University of Central Florida biologist, Reed Noss.

“In light of population levels possibly below 200 individuals and very rapid recent declines of [the sparrow], … we conclude that the risk of delay exceeds the risk of mistakes,” the letter states.

Read the entire article from the Orlando Sentinel here.

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