There are so many different species of birds in Florida. Thus, this place is a heaven for both amateur and serious birdwatchers.
The rarest bird in Florida happens to be the Grasshopper Sparrow. The time has come to say goodbye to this specie.
According to experts, the odds are not looking good, and grasshopper sparrow may very well disappear from the wild.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s South Florida office has mentioned that there is a significant chance that this bird may go extinct.
About Grasshopper Sparrow
They are found only in Florida’s dry pastures and prairies. It is said that the bird is cryptic. It prefers to hop along the ground.
They hide among the dense grasses of a prairie. Because of how it looks, it has been able to stay nearly invisible among the wild prairie plants backdrop.
They come with mottled rusty feathers which has a delicate vibe to it. The feathers lead to a yellow, small brow that it present at the top of the bird’s head. They mostly live around 50 miles south of Orlando.
Grasshopper sparrows are only 5 inches long. They have flat heads and short tails. The feathers are black and gray in color.
They are named after the sound they make. First the bird makes 2 to 3 weak notes after which they make an insect-like buzz.
According to recent studies, it was discovered that less than 30 breeding pairs are left in the wild. For this reason, conservations have stepped in to save these Florida birds.
It happens to be the most endangered bird in the whole of US. Millions of dollars have been invested to save grasshopper sparrow.
If it does go extinct, then it will become the first bird of USA in 3 decades to go extinct. Their dwindling population is caused by a disease.
Last year, it was discovered that around 30-40 females and 70-74 males remained in the Central Florida prairies. Recently, this number has been shrunk down to around 20-22 females and 50-53 males.
This disease that are killing off the birds is not what these birds of Florida has experienced before. As a result, the birds’ immune system is not prepared to fight off this disease.
It mostly affects the birds before they can turn a year old. So, it happens to affect the younger birds.
Researchers are working day and night to figure out from where the protozoans causing illness came from and how one can fight it off.
Beside the mysterious disease, fire ants are also considered as the top most thing that has been killing off these birds. Fire ants has attacked and killed the young sparrows for a long time now.
Grasshopper sparrows have been a part of Florida birds for more than 3000 years. So, it would be a travesty if they indeed go extinct.
The biologist that has been trying to save this bird from going extinct has launched a breeding program.
This program was set up just a few years ago, and it is a captive type of breeding program. The person in charge of the program happens to be Andrew Schumann.
He is from the well-known and well-loved White Oak Plantation, the North Florida refuge. The program is said to be successful as it has managed to hatch one egg last year.
It was informed that every other egg that has been laid so far has also hatched successfully.
All that is left to do is figure out how to set the birds back into the wild. The birds of Florida need to learn how to live as wild birds.
However, this breeding program has seen couple of downfalls. There are some captive-bred sparrows that has been affected by the disease. Even if the birds were bred in captivity, they are likely to survive more than a wild one does.
History behind it
Maj. Edgar A. Mearns, a US Army Surgeon was the one who first discovered this bird. It was the year 1902, and the birds’ population was widespread all across central-south Florida.
During the 1970s, many prairies that has been the habitat for these birds in Florida were drained and ditched to convert them into sod production or pastures.
This decline in the number of prairies, saw a major decline in the total population of the bird. They became part of the federal endangered species list in the year 1986.
During this time around 1000 of grasshopper sparrows were left. Now as there are so little left of them, experts want to capture them all to keep them in captivity. They are saying it is to be done for their own protection.
Without the birds the functionality of the ecosystem will start to fall apart. It plays a central role in the food web as it happens to eat a myriad of insects. Besides, it also serves as an important food source for many different predators found in the dry prairie of Florida.
The dry prairie used to be prevalent across peninsular Florida. Recently, it can be seen that it has experienced an 85% reduction.
The reduction is due to expanding agriculture and human population. For many years, Grasshopper sparrows were forced to go by what habitat remained.
Because of current less quality habitat, they now have to suffer from quite high rates of nest predation from reptiles, mammals and invasive fire ants.
Besides White Oak Conservation, these birds can be found in Welaka Fish Hatchery, Avian Preservation and Education Conservancy, Brevard zoo and Santa Fe College Teaching zoo.
But it is White Oak which has the largest population of captive sparrows. About 77 Grasshopper sparrows lives in massive netted enclosures which replicates the birds’ natural habitat.
Here steps are taken to ensure there is no outbreak of diseases. The place provides them the freedom to forage for food. So, they are learning how to fend for themselves.
The survival strategies are important for when the birds are released back into the wild.
State and federal agencies are working together now to ensure that Florida’s dry prairie habitant can indeed support the lifespan of more sparrows.
There you have it; Grasshopper sparrow happens to be the rarest bird of Florida. The birds of Florida come with many advantages for the ecosystem, so it will be a huge loss if they go extinct.