Apr 19, 2013 04:41 PM EDT | Michael Briggs
Biologists are initiating a captive breeding program for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, an endangered species that is not found anywhere else in the world.
According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the species could go extinct in three to five years if officials do not step in to save it. The group announced the captive breeding program Thursday and while it is not the preferred solution, the 20 eggs collected will hopefully give the birds a chance.
"Captive breeding is labor intensive and challenging. It is generally done as a last resort and there are no guarantees. But we have to try," Larry Williams, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach. "This is an emergency and the situation for this species is dire. This is literally a race against time."
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, there are only 200 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows left in the wild. The Dusky Seaside Sparrow, the Grasshopper Sparrow's cousin, went extinct 1987 under similar circumstances.
The eggs should hatch within 11 to 13 days, and the end goal is to release the birds into the wild in two to three years, according to biologists.
"We know it's going to be hard," Williams said. "They're small birds living in dense vegetation and they're secretive by nature."
The program will cost $68,000 and be covered by grants. Florida Grasshopper Sparrows are about 5 inches long and have flat heads with short tails and black and gray feathers. The birds were added to the federal endangered species list in 1986.
A cocktail of problems have added to the decline of the sparrows. Williams believes a gender imbalance is a possible reason for the bird's decline, along with fire ants, which eat their eggs. Disease and a hit to the species' genetic diversity could also be to blame.
"We're trying to prevent a unique part of Florida's landscape from vanishing," Williams said.
(Source: Tampa Bay Times)