A new $140,000 grant will be used at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee to try and prevent the extinction of North America’s most endangered bird, the Florida grasshopper sparrow.
Federal and state biologists say there are less than 30 nesting pairs of Florida grasshopper sparrows left in the wild. Their numbers have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years, largely due to habitat loss, predation, and - because they’re ground nesting birds - seasonal flooding.
The nonprofit Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida announced this week that it was awarding $140,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That money will be used at White Oak in Yulee to breed young birds in captivity and eventually release them into the wild.
“Every nest counts,” said Fish and Wildlife 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.”
The grant was approved by the Foundation’s board of directors in March, with funds coming from the Conserve Wildlife Florida license plate. For every one of the license plates bought, $25 goes towards conservation of Florida’s rare species and nongame wildlife. The plates have a picture of a Florida black bear on them.
The foundation is currently working on updating the license plate’s design.
“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.”
White Oak has bred and released nearly 150 of the birds over the past year thanks to similar grants. Those birds were too young to mate and nest in 2019, but they may be able to start breeding later this spring.
Researchers have already started spotting some of the released birds, with 19 resighted so far.