The diminutive, federally Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is the flagship bird species of south-central Florida's imperiled dry prairie ecosystem. Less than 80 of these boldly marked sparrows remain in the wild on conservation lands in the Kissimmee River Valley and adjacent private lands. This secretive sparrow is considered the most endangered bird in the mainland United States.
Florida's Grasshopper Sparrow is a subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow and one of two subspecies in the U.S. that is non-migratory, meaning they live their whole life in the same square mile or two. Young birds tend to wander a bit more in their first fall and winter but most return to the area where they hatched.
In 2015 a captive breeding program was established with a handful of Florida Grasshopper Sparrows removed from the wild. The program has been so successful that sparrows had to be released this spring to make room for the next generation of offspring. On Monday, May 6, 2019, the first three captive-bred sparrows were released into the wild, dry prairie.
Audubon Florida's Dr. Paul Gray, an original member of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow working group that oversees all research and conservation activities involving the subspecies, said "Release of these three healthy, captive-bred birds is a critically important milestone in keeping this iconic sparrow from going extinct in the short term, and gives biologists more time to find out why their population has been struggling." Read more about the release event here.