The threat of extinction for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is sadly within sight. America’s most critically endangered bird species reside here in our backyard, and the final, small window of opportunity to save it lies squarely with us.
The Tropical Conservation Institute (TCI), a collaboration between FIU and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), has led a high-impact program to prevent the extinction of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. An important part of the sparrow program aims to rescue at-risk nestlings from the wild, successfully rear them to independence in captivity, return them to enclosures on the prairie under the close supervision of staff, and ultimately release them back to the wild. Sadly, the captive-recovery work has lost state and federal funding. $150,000 is needed to launch a pilot, on-prairie release effort for 2018 and early 2019, which will run concurrently with already funded research investigating diseases that are plaguing the Florida grasshopper sparrow. Together, these actions reveal a roadmap to species recovery on Florida’s dry prairie.
TCI and RSCF are currently working hard to create a safe space for the sparrows, and to provide resources for them to be released next year. RSCF currently holds a clutch with more due to hatch this week and more field rescues on the way. Meanwhile, the wild population continues to decline with perhaps only a few dozen adult birds left on the prairie. The urgency to act now cannot be overstated.
Despite these realities and challenges, Dr. Paul Reillo, TCI Co-Director and RSCF Director, is optimistic. The efforts to thwart extinction and give this special bird a chance have been extraordinary, and with the support of organizations such as National Audubon Society, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Florida Park services, and private contributors (like you!), the future for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow can be bright.