The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is hailing the hatching of the first captive-bred Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks, born at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF) in Loxahatchee, Fla..
The species, says the FWS in a release, is one of North America's most endangered birds, with only an estimated 150 left in the wild.
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Because of those dire circumstances, a captive-breeding program was launched in 2015 when five nestlings from two different clutches were collected from the wild, along with two juveniles of the species that would serve as their "tutors."
Last month, the birds began to pair off, and on May 9 one of the females hatched four nestlings. Thus far, indications are that their mother is taking good care of the young birds.
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These are indeed tough times for the tiny bird.
According to Audubon Florida, the Florida grasshopper sparrow has seen about 85 percent of the dry prairie habitat on which it depends destroyed, due to its conversion into pasture land for grazing animals.
Experts say the births could not have come at a better time, as they are not optimistic about 2016 population counts for the bird in the wild, with even the local weather in Florida not cooperating.
"This breakthrough is great news because the Florida grasshopper sparrow couldn't be more vulnerable," said Sandra Sneckenberger, one of the FWS' lead biologists on the bird's recovery effort, in a May 11 statement.
"Unfortunately," she said, "last week's storms flooded most of the wild birds' first nest attempts of the season. That brought the need for this captive-breeding program into even sharper focus. The four hatchlings are hopeful signs that bode well for producing options for recovery."