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Florida’s most endangered bird receives critical support

Tallahassee, FL (April 21, 2020) – The nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida announced a $140,000 grant to prevent extinction of North America’s – and Florida’s — most endangered bird, the Florida grasshopper sparrow.

No more than 30 nesting pairs of sparrows remain in the wild, according to federal and state biologists. This represents a precipitous drop from as recently as 20 years ago. The long-term decline is largely due to degradation and destruction of the sparrow’s dry prairie habitat in central Florida. As their numbers have fallen, the sparrow population overall has become increasingly vulnerable to predation by skunks, snakes, raccoons and other animals, and seasonal flooding from heavy rains.

“Every nest counts,” said Foundation President and CEO Andrew Walker. “Anything we can do to help each pair nest successfully is one more ounce of hope for the bird’s future.”

Breeding sparrows in captivity is a critical part of a multi-faceted strategy for preventing their extinction. The Foundation’s $140,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will be used at White Oak Conservation Foundation in Yulee to breed young birds in captivity that can be released into the wild.

Similar Foundation grants totaling $215,000 in 2019 allowed White Oak to hatch and rear 129 juvenile birds. 105 birds were released last summer on public conservation lands south of Orlando. Another 40 birds were released this winter. These birds were too young to mate and nest in 2019, but hopes are running high that they’ll begin breeding later this spring. Researchers already have started observing released birds, with 19 re-sighted so far, and we are expecting to re-sight more released birds this summer as the breeding season for the sparrow progresses.

“We are passionate about rescuing the Florida grasshopper sparrow from the brink of extinction,” said Walker. “Conserving Florida’s most vulnerable wildlife populations is one of our highest priorities. We are grateful to our many donors who make it possible for us to support the work of White Oak Conservation, the FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The grant was approved by the Foundation’s board of directors at their March meeting. Funds come from the Conserve Wildlife Florida license plate, which displays the image of a Florida black bear. Twenty-five dollars from each purchase of the “bear tag” supports the conservation of Florida’s rare species and other nongame wildlife. The Foundation is in the process of updating the license plate’s design.

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