A little-known bird is making its last stand in the state of Florida. The Florida grasshopper sparrow lives in the dry prairie ecosystem of central and south Florida. It is the most endangered bird in North America and the majority of people have no idea that it exists. It is one of four sub-species of grasshopper sparrows, however unlike the other three, the Florida grasshopper sparrow does not migrate and is therefore restricted to the dry Florida prairies. They breed in the springtime, where they will construct the nest on the ground. The female will then lay 3-5 eggs, and the young will begin to fledge after ten days from hatching. The males sing out in the open to defend their territory.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is in grave danger and its existence hangs in the balance. Only fifty to sixty are estimated to be still living in the wild, and these survivors are facing more and more threats each day. The sparrow’s habitat of dry prairies is being converted into pasture land for cattle, and conservationists estimate that over 80% of the prairies have been destroyed. The sparrows cannot survive once the land has undergone this kind of conversion and so once the prairies are gone, so are the sparrows.
One method that has been put forward as a way of saving the bird from almost certain annihilation is to gather up the remaining birds that are still in the wild and use them for captive breeding. This method is often used by conservationists to help bring species back from the brink of extinction. However, captive breeding can do wonders to help bring a species number back up but it means nothing if the animals have no place to live once they are released. The sparrows cannot live on the prairies once it has been destroyed and turned into pasture land for cattle. Therefore, the main thing that needs to be done is to conserve and save the remaining portion of the sparrow’s habitat and designate it as off limits to development. This is something only the state of Florida can do and while it may not be a popular decision among Florida’s real estate developers it is something that must be done if the Florida grasshopper sparrow is to stand a chance.
The Florida grasshopper sparrow is not a large charismatic animal. It is not an animal that you see in a picture and immediately want to cuddle and bring home with you to shower it with affection, but we must not only try to save the charismatic animals that we see on posters and on television. There are thousands of species that are all at risk for extinction but no one hears about their plight because they are simply not “marketable” enough. If we are going to do our part as global citizens and do everything we can to be good stewards of the planet then we must try to save, or at least help to the best of our abilities, every species that is in trouble.
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