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Hatchlings lend hope to survival of Florida grasshopper sparrow

"We can prevent extinctions, buy time to develop recovery options, and discover fresh solutions to problems," said researcher Paul Reillo.

By Brooks Hays
Hatchlings lend hope to survival of Florida grasshopper sparrow
A mother tends to her four new hatchlings, the first Florida grasshopper sparrows born in captivity. Photo by FIU/TCI

MIAMI, May 13 (UPI) -- There is hope for the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow. This week marked the first time the species has been bred and hatched in captivity.

The first hatchling came on the morning of May 9. Three more hatched through the end of the week. The good news arrives just a year after researchers with Florida International University's Tropical Conservation Institute captured seven sparrows from the wild. The seven were the first to be raised in captivity.

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The adult sparrows and hatchlings are currently being cared for by biologists at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Fla.

"The first captive breeding of the Florida grasshopper sparrow sparks hope for this critically endangered endemic from Central Florida's prairie," Paul Reillo, director of TCI and founding president of the Rare Species Conservatory, said in a news release.

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There are less than 100 male grasshopper sparrows left and an unknown number of females.

"With wild populations declining, our first priority is to prevent extinction -- which, sadly, was the fate of the Florida grasshopper sparrow's close relative, the dusky seaside sparrow, 30 years ago," Reillo said. "This first captive clutch is exciting and humbling, providing an intimate window into the sparrow's secretive world."

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"We can prevent extinctions, buy time to develop recovery options, and discover fresh solutions to problems," Reillo said of the captive breeding program. "This is a vital part of a comprehensive species-recovery program."

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Researchers say the mother of the four hatchlings is carefully attending to her newborns, while the father appears mostly uninterested. The sparrows co-parent in the wild, but it's common for males to distance themselves from the mother and offspring in captivity. Father or no father, caretakers at the conservatory are ensuring both mother and babies are well fed.

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