Saving the small species too
The Florida grasshopper sparrow was first described in 1902. At the time, a relatively widespread population of the birds lived in south-central Florida. By 2017, only about 15 pairs remained in the wild, mainly because their native prairie grassland had been converted to cattle pastures, sod production and other agricultural uses.
Grasshopper sparrows weigh no more than one ounce as adults. Their cryptic coloration and habit of living and nesting in the grass make them almost invisible. They forage on the ground for small invertebrates, especially grasshoppers, and seeds. The nest of a grasshopper sparrow is a well-concealed ‘cup’ on the ground under vegetation. Females incubate three to five eggs for approximately 12 days. Chicks fledge the nest at around eight days of age but will stay in the area and be fed by the parents for a few weeks. If a nest fails due to predation or flooding (Florida grasshopper sparrows have a nesting success of only 11% in the wild), breeding pairs of grasshopper sparrows may nest again after failure. At White Oak, the birds are housed in large predator-proof enclosures in an effort to increase the likelihood of success.
In 2016, White Oak became involved in the recovery of the Florida grasshopper sparrow in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The first Florida grasshopper sparrows bred at White Oak that following year. In 2019, we released 106 Florida grasshopper sparrows into the wild in south Florida. We are on track to surpass that number in 2020.