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JoAnn Adkins
Hatchlings give hope for endangered songbird’s survival
MIAMI (May 13, 2016) —The first captive-bred Florida Grasshopper Sparrow hatched this week under the care of researchers with FIU’s Tropical Conservation Institute.
One of the world’s most endangered birds, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow exclusively resides in Central Florida. At last count, less than 100 males remain in the wild and the number of elusive females is unknown. Last year,
seven sparrows were put in the care of TCI researchers — the first to ever be reared in a captive setting. TCI is a collaboration with the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Fla., where the sparrows are currently residing.
“The first captive breeding of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow sparks hope for this critically endangered endemic from Central Florida's prairie,” said TCI Director Paul Reillo, who is also the founding president of Rare Species. “With wild populations declining, our first priority is to prevent extinction.  This first captive clutch is exciting and humbling, providing an intimate window into the sparrow's secretive world. It also reminds us that recovery will take many years, concerted, coordinated effort, and substantial funding. “
In total, four chicks hatched this week, with the first making its debut at 7:30 a.m., May 9.
The chicks were a pleasant surprise for Reillo, who expected several false starts before successful breeding. Between three males and four females, a successful nesting requires a pair of unrelated birds that get along well enough to mate and successfully hatch chicks. The odds were long. But two birds started showing interest in each other in early spring and the female laid her first egg April 26.
The chicks are estimated to weigh less than 2 grams. Currently, the mother is taking care of the young, and TCI researchers and Rare Species staff are working around the clock to ensure the mother and chicks are fed and properly pampered. The chicks are expected to fledge from their nest next week.
While the chicks give scientists a reason to celebrate, Reillo says much uncertainty remains. After all, four chicks is a long way from recovery for a species on the brink of extinction. Conservationists agonized for years over how to stop the plunge in the tiny songbird’s population, occurring for reasons still unknown. In a desperate attempt to save the species, officials from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave approval last year to take the seven into captivity. Currently, the now-11 residing in Loxahatchee are the only ones living under the care of researchers in captivity.
Aside from the biological challenges of breeding such a delicate species in captivity, another challenge is funding. Researchers are relying on a series of grants to cover the nearly $120,000 in annual costs to sustain the captive breeding program for the birds. TCI also has received a donation of cooling fans from
Dyson and feeding supplies from Timberline Fisheries. But as Reillo points out, the financial cost is minor when compared to the cost of losing an entire species to extinction.


About FIU:
Florida International University is classified by Carnegie as a R1: Doctoral Universities - Highest Research Activity and recognized as a Carnegie engaged university. It is a public research university with
colleges and schools that offers 196 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, computer science, international relations, architecture, law and medicine. As one of South Florida’s anchor institutions, FIU contributes almost $9 billion each year to the local economy. FIU is Worlds Ahead in finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. FIU emphasizes research as a major component of its mission. FIU has awarded more than 220,000 degrees and enrolls more than 54,000 students in two campuses and three centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell, FIU@I-75, and the Miami Beach Urban Studios. FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program houses the Aquarius Reef Base, a unique underwater research facility in the Florida Keys. FIU also supports artistic and cultural engagement through its three museums: Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, the Wolfsonian-FIU, and the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU. FIU is a member of Conference USA and more than 400 student-athletes participating in 18 sports. For more information about FIU, visit