Birding Today: What caused yellow Northern Cardinal?

Since the 20th century, several birds became extinct, just in this country. The Passenger Pigeon was here today and gone tomorrow, once having a billion birds to its credit, last seen in Ohio in 1900. In 1905, the only parakeet of the United States, the Carolina Parakeet, became no more in 1905. In 1944, with several alleged sightings since, the largest and most stately woodpecker, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, became a mere memory in the Louisiana bayous. Bachman’s Warbler was kissed goodnight in South Carolina in 1962, and the Dusky Seaside Sparrow was cast aside as a subspecies in 1962 in Florida. The latter was one of the most unnecessary and disorganized loss of life ever known for a defenseless bird due to infrastructure.

Writer had discussed previously the endangered subspecies, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, in the past. This non-migratory bird was just as limited as the Dusky Seaside Sparrow in south central Florida limited to Glades, Okeechobee, Polk, Highlands, and Osceola counties.

It requires poorly drained larger tracts of grasslands with a need for fire, very limited numbers of trees, and requirements for wiregrass and bluestem, with sparse numbers of saw palmetto in the Florida Dry Prairie.

Surveys of the birds were taken in the 1980s to determine distribution and abundance of the species, which was nearly unknown, and they were listed as an endangered species.  Surveys from the 1990s determined that there were less than 500 birds in existence, and it was feared that they would see the same fate as the Dusky Seaside Sparrow that was left to perish at Disneyworld.

As of 2017, only 50 or 60 birds were left in the wild, and serious action was being taken to restore populations as a result. It was suspected that nestlings were failing due to invasive fire ants, competition with non-natives, loss of habitat, and negative weather conditions affecting nest integrity.

Not wanting more bad publicity due to the recent loss of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in South Florida developed the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group for its recovery and partnership program.

In November 2020, across all monitored populations, the group is pleased to announce through their hard work, as well as biologists, staff, partners, volunteers, donors, and all other interested parties, they observed and counted 112 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows. This includes 81 males and 31 females with approximately 34 breeding pairs and 85 fledglings produced in the wild in 2020.

Released were an additional 103 hatch year (juvenile) birds, which means in total, roughly 250 captive-bred Florida Grasshopper Sparrows have been released into the wild between May 2019 and September 2020.

As we all know, it took several years for these birds to fail to the degree that they had been, and there is still a long trek ahead to bring these birds back to the populations that they once enjoyed.

Any donations would graciously be accepted. Contact Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, a Facebook Group, for any immediate needs of the species.

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater. 

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