Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
By Tom Virzi
So for my first blog post from the field in 2015 I’m going to tell you about a different sparrow than you might be expecting. I was just down in Florida setting up a new field experiment studying the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus), a closely-related cousin of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. This bird is another critically endangered Florida endemic subspecies with perhaps less than 150 individuals remaining in the wild. Efforts are underway to try to save this subspecies from following the fate of another Florida endemic, the now extinct Dusky Seaside Sparrow.
Like the CSSS, the FGSP is a non-migratory subspecies living its entire life in south Florida. Both are birds of southern prairies, however, the FGSP lives in Florida’s dry prairies along the Kissimmee River north of the Everglades marl prairies that are home to the CSSS. The dry prairies of central Florida have been heavily converted to cattle pastures and citrus plantations over the years, and little intact prairie remains. The long-term fate of the FGSP depends on the reclamation and restoration of these lands.
Our field experiment is exploring the use of song playback to provide artificial conspecific cues to attract sparrows into suitable yet unoccupied habitat. Many birds, especially grassland species, use such cues as one source of information when making settlement decisions about where to establish breeding territories. Before joining Ecostudies, I conducted a similar experiment with the CSSS and was successful in attracting male sparrows into suitable habitat that had recently recovered from fire (Virzi et al_Condor_2012). Our hope is that we can see similar results with the FGSP, which could help re-establish populations in areas that were previously occupied by breeding sparrows.
Check back for blog posts about the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow project which will be starting up very soon!