An emotional sendoff happened recently as we celebrated a big win for conservation. Five juvenile Florida grasshopper sparrows were sent into their natural range on June 22, contributing to the population of this critically endangered species.
This group of five young sparrows included individuals from our first two clutches of eggs. After hatching, the sparrows stay with their parents for 21 days, after which they move to a separate behind-the-scenes habitat and are monitored to confirm they are eating on their own. After a few more weeks of growing and monitoring, they are ready to be released into their natural range.
Before the big release day, chicks are given aluminum bands and measurements are taken to compare with the information gathered during their parental separation exams. This aluminum band, along with the colored bands that are put on at day five, allow biologists to identify and track each bird so they can continue to gather valuable information on this critically endangered species.
The five sparrows were transported out to Avon Park Air Force Range the day before their release so they had time to rest before the big day. They were placed in a mobile aviary on the prairie so that they could acclimate to their new home.
“Bringing them out the day before enables them to rest and have some snacks with the hope that they are calmer and have less stress hormones pumping through their systems before they’re sent out into the big world,” said Kelly Currier, the Zoo’s Conservation Coordinator.
On the day of release, a small team of Zoo staff members carpooled across the state to catch this memorable event at Avon Park. The five young birds were greeted by another sparrow as the door was opened. Some of the sparrows took big leaps out onto the prairie, while others observed before cautiously hopping into their new home.
More are on their way! Florida grasshopper sparrows are still in breeding season, meaning more birds will be headed to their natural range over the next few months. Three of our four breeding pairs have successfully hatched chicks. We currently have eight hatch years (or independent fledglings), nine hatchlings and three eggs!
These sparrows will serve as invaluable members of the range-wide population of Florida grasshopper sparrows, which is threatened due to non-native fire ants and amount of available high-quality habitat, among other factors.
Florida grasshopper sparrows are only found in a few areas in Central and South Florida and have lost approximately 85% of their natural habitat to agriculture. Helping this imperiled species is a big undertaking, but it’s one that we are so happy to do! 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 will soon be flying around their natural range.
Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.