With just a few dozen left in the wild, things don’t look good for these critically endangered birds. But a captive-breeding program could help save them.
January 31, 2018 - by John R. Platt
Mary Peterson, USFWS
This year the United States could experience its first bird extinction in more than three decades.
That’s the warning from the scientists and conservationists working to protect the critically endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus). Once common in the grasslands of central Florida, this geographically isolated subspecies has experienced a catastrophic population decline since the 1970s, mostly due to habitat loss and degradation. Although the tiny birds have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1986, their numbers have continued to fall — to the point where recovery now seems next to impossible. A survey last year found that just 22 females and 53 males remained in the wild — and that was before 2017’s hurricane season and record-setting winter cold snaps.
“Extinctions really happen,” warns Paul Reillo, zoologist and president of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Fla. “This is going to be North America’s next extinct bird if we do nothing.”