Florida grasshopper sparrows are the United States’ most endangered bird. We recognized the need to keep these uniquely Floridian birds in our state and joined the breeding program in 2019. Our Zoo is part of a collaborative conservation effort to save this species with the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, United States Air Force, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Archbold Biological Station.
This species is only found in a few areas in Central and South Florida and has lost approximately 85% of their natural habitat to agriculture. Nonnative fire ants (which invade nests and feed on chicks), disease and genetic bottlenecking may be hastening the sparrows’ decline.
We first took in individuals in September of 2019 as a holding facility. Birds were brought into temporary habitats off exhibit until a permanent structure could be built. Thanks to help from our Zoo supporters, a behind-the-scenes outdoor habitat was constructed and in March 2021 was ready for inhabitants. Native plants, perching, grasses for nesting, hollowed-out logs for shelter and multiple water and seed sources to provide the most natural environment possible for our sparrows.
In 2021, just over 100 Florida grasshopper sparrows were detected in their natural habitat. Our very first successful breeding season in 2022 resulted in more than 40 birds being released back into their native range!
There is still a long way to go, but due to the hard work of Brevard Zoo’s Conservation Team and its partners, more Florida grasshopper sparrows are now flying around their natural range. You can stay up-to-date on our Zoo’s Florida grasshopper sparrow conservation breeding program on our blog.