Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Conservation

A major effort at the Welaka National Fish Hatchery involves helping to restore the critically endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow to its natural habitat. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) lives exclusively in the Florida dry prairie habitat, 85% of which has been destroyed, thereby robbing this diminutive little bird of a safe place to live and thrive. Considered federally endangered, it is arguably the most endangered bird in the continental United States.
Adult Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Detail from photo by Mary Peterson, USFWS.

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is a small bird about 3.9 to 5.5 inches in length and weighs from 13.8 to 28.4 grams. It makes a sound similar to that of a grasshopper. The males make a sound when flying, described as a series of squeaky notes. Their primary food sources include insects, especially grasshoppers, and seeds. They nest on the ground in an open cup under vegetation, well hidden from prey.
Welaka acquires baby Florida Grasshopper Sparrows from White Oak Conservation, a partner in the conservation and restoration of this critically endangered species, and raises them in a safe environment until they are ready for release in areas that are most propitious to their survival. The following video was produced by White Oak Conservation in 2018. It explains the critically endangered status of this little bird and provides some great information and beautiful footage.

In an effort to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists and numerous federal, state, NGOs, and other organizations (including WNFH) have released more than 100 critically endangered, captive-reared birds into the wild. Only about 80 of these rare sparrows remained in the wild before the releases.



Captive Breeding Increases Chances of Survival

Captive breeding gives the Grasshopper Sparrows a head start. Rearing birds for a few weeks under favorable conditions allows them to escape the toughest period in the life of a wild bird. Mealworms, crickets, and birdseed make up most of their diet while in captivity.

Before releasing the birds, researchers place radio transmitters on some of them, while unique leg bands are placed on all of them. The transmitters and bands allow biologists to follow the birds over time. These captive-reared birds are being released back into the wild where their critical habitat is still prime.

The release of these captive birds is scheduled to continue while researchers continue to seek ways to improve the reproductive success of birds in the wild. Hopefully, one day we will see stable, healthy populations thriving in their native habitat.