An emergency effort to prevent extinction of Florida grasshopper sparrows, found only in Central Florida, includes attempts to breed them in captivity. The first four birds hatched this week.
Contact Reporter Orlando Sentinel
Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks defy long odds
One of the nation's most endangered birds, a rare sparrow found only Central Florida, took a step away from potential extinction this week with the unprecedented hatching of four chicks in captivity.
"It's a historic breakthrough," said Ken Warren of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, referring to the largely unexpected births of Florida grasshopper sparrows.
The parents were among three males and four females taken as chicks last year from treeless prairies south of Orlando, where only about 100 males have been tracked and the number of secretive females remains unknown.
Federal approval to capture the birds came after years of biologists agonizing over how to stop a plunge in the bird's population for reasons still not explained.
The seven were taken to Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Palm Beach County, which specializes in rearing birds and animals on the edge of extinction.
"This is a very small group to be starting out with, and to be able to find a compatible pair of birds that are unrelated and happen to get along and happen to build a nest and happen to successfully hatch chicks – these are really long odds," said Paul Reillo, foundation director.
Reillo said he had expected many false starts instead of success in the pair's first nesting attempt.
He said the parents began to show signs of "sexual proclivity" early this spring and laid the first egg on April 26.
The first hatching was early Monday morning, with the others later in the morning, that afternoon and Tuesday morning.
Reillo estimated that each chick weighs less than 2 grams, or less than half of the weight of a nickel.