YULEE, Fla. - The fight to save North America’s most endangered bird is happening right here on the First Coast.
Staff at White Oak Conservation in Yulee are working with Florida Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to captive breed the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow in hopes of building up its population to ultimately release back into the wild.
“There’s less than 40 singing males, I believe, in the world now,” said Andrew Schumann, collections manager at White Oak Conservation. “So if you assume equal sex ratio, less than 100 birds.”
Schumann attributed the dwindling number to loss of their natural environment. The sparrows require specific conditions like open, grassy areas that have been burned.
“Within a couple years they stop using it, if it’s not burned,” Schumann said.
Schumann said much of the little land they had to begin with has been converted to pasture or developed.
But the conservation enclosures mimic the bird’s ideal environment, including the insects placed inside for them to eat.
“The fact that they’re able to practice their hunting and foraging abilities in captivity makes them better able to survive in the wild,” Schumann said.
The work is paying off. Twenty Florida Grasshopper Sparrow chicks have hatched since spring.
“I think that’s a really positive thing and it gives hope to all of us that we will eventually be successful in recovering this species,” Schumann said.