Monday, June 25, 2018
News Roundup

Endangered sparrows hatch in captivity, providing hope for species' future (w/video)

The population of Florida's most critically endangered bird just got a little larger.

Four grasshopper sparrow chicks were hatched in a Loxahatchee laboratory this week, marking the first success of a captive breeding program launched out of fear the tiny birds were about to go extinct.

The hatchlings, however, won't be released into the wild, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren.

"Those initial four are going to be kept in captivity," he said. "There's no current plan to release them into the wild. Instead, they'll be held and used to build up the captive colony."

In a few years, after there are a sufficient number in captivity, federal and state officials will consider using the lab-hatched birds to supplement the dwindling numbers still inhabiting the grassy prairies of Osceola and Okeechobee counties, he said.

Currently, biologists estimate no more than 150 are left, and heavy rains last week wiped out many of the wild birds' first attempts at nesting. They are regarded as among the most endangered birds in North America.

"This captive breeding program might buy us time to unravel the compounding factors causing the sparrows to decline so rapidly," said Larry Williams, who is in charge of the federal agency's South Florida office. The agency has spent $120,000 a year for the past four years on this.

When the captive breeding program was launched in 2013, experts were predicting the grasshopper sparrow would go extinct in three to five years, just like its cousin, the dusky seaside sparrow. The dusky disappeared from the Earth in 1987 when the last survivor died at Disney World.

If the Florida grasshopper sparrow vanishes, it would be the first bird species to go extinct in the United States since then.

Florida grasshopper sparrows are about 5 inches long, with flat heads, short tails and black and gray feathers that help them hide their nests amid the low shrubs and saw palmetto of the state's grassy prairies.

They are generally heard more than seen, with a call that consists of two or three weak notes followed by an insectlike buzz — hence their name.

The bird was first described in 1902 by U.S. Army surgeon Maj. Edgar A. Mearns, when their population was widespread across south-central Florida. By the 1970s, so many of the prairies that form their habitat had been ditched and drained and converted to pastures or sod production that the sparrow population plummeted. They were added to the federal endangered species list in 1986.

Biologists captured seven juvenile birds in 2015 and took them to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee. They were reared to be independent of humans and began pairing up for breeding in April.

A mother bird began hatching a clutch of four eggs on Monday. As of Wednesday, biologists said, the female appeared to be properly caring for and feeding the four nestlings. The chicks should be ready to leave the nest and start trying to fly about nine days after they hatched. In three weeks, they should be completely independent.

"This breakthrough is great news," federal biologist Sandra Sneckenberger said. "Because the Florida grasshopper sparrow couldn't be more vulnerable."

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Depression opens; Pasco officials tell six homes to evacuate

Depression opens; Pasco officials tell six homes to evacuate

MOON LAKE — A hole measuring 15 feet across and 10 feet deep appeared in the backyards of two homes on Monday, authorities said, leading them to call for the evacuation of six total homes.The depression appeared in two backyards in the 11790 block of...
Updated: 6 minutes ago

Still time for vacation Bible school in Pasco

Each summer, hundreds of Pasco County church volunteers spend as many hours preparing for and putting on vacation Bible schools.The tradition dates back to the late 19th century and was popularized in the 1920s, when Standard Publishing released the ...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Tampa Bay’s ‘Fabulous Sports Babe’ voted into National Radio Hall of Fame

Tampa Bay’s ‘Fabulous Sports Babe’ voted into National Radio Hall of Fame

Tampa Bay resident Nanci Donnellan, long known to radio listeners as "The Fabulous Sports Babe," has been voted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.Donnellan,the first woman to ever host a nationally syndicated sports talk radio program,&#...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Deputies: 2-month-old drowned in tub after mother lost consciousness

Deputies: 2-month-old drowned in tub after mother lost consciousness

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 2-month-old girl who drowned while taking a bath with her mother on Sunday. The baby’s mother suffered a medical episode that left her unconscious, deputies said.A ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
‘This universe can end,’ said driver in video, now charged with mowing down bike family

‘This universe can end,’ said driver in video, now charged with mowing down bike family

TAMPA — Pedro Aguerreberry pedaled along New Tampa Boulevard on Sunday pulling his son Bennett in a trailer as his other son Lucas rode alongside them.As father and sons headed east on a paved bike path, a former star track and field athlete named Mi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning makes qualifying offers to four restricted free agents

Lightning makes qualifying offers to four restricted free agents

Three days after Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he hoped to re-sign all of the team's restricted free agents, the team issued qualifying offers to all four players, including forwards J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.By issuing the quali...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays vs. Nationals, with Snell looking to keep things rolling

For starters: Rays vs. Nationals, with Snell looking to keep things rolling

UPDATE, 3:25: RHP Austin Pruitt was called up to replace Jonny Venters, who went on the DL with a hamstring strain.UPDATE, 2:55: The Rays indeed are giving INF Daniel Robertson his first start in the outfield tonight, and with Johnny Field sitting ou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF athletic director search nearing its end

USF athletic director search nearing its end

TAMPA — The search for USF's next athletic director is nearing its end.Search committee chair William Sutton said he hopes to submit a candidate to president Judy Genshaft later this week with a hire likely coming by July 4. Sutton did not...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Buzz Aldrin sues children, alleging misuse of his finances

Buzz Aldrin sues children, alleging misuse of his finances

ORLANDO — Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin is suing two of his children and a former business manager, accusing them of misusing his credit cards, transferring money from an account and slandering him by saying he has dementia.Aldrin’s lawsuit filed ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Tuesday’s letters: Here’s what a legal immigrant went through to become a U.S. citizen

Trump says those who ‘invade’ shouldbe sent back | June 25How I becamea U.S. citizenI am a legal immigrant. I don’t know where this country went awry, but let me remind you of how legal immigration worked. In 1964 I applied for a visa at the U.S....
Updated: 2 hours ago