Striking, widespread and widely recognised, thanks in part to the Harry Potter books, the Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus was previously listed as Least Concern, the lowest threat category of the IUCN Red List. However, this assessment was based on earlier figures that estimated the global population to number around 200,000 individuals, and the absence of evidence of significant declines.
Despite $1 million worth of conservation efforts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say Florida grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) are facing challenges in growing its population both in the wild and in captivity. The sparrow is largely endangered because of its dependence on its natural habitat: the dry prairies of central Florida. The subspecies was first discovered in 1902. However, it faced a population decline in the 1970s as prairie grasslands were converted to improve cattle pastures, sod production and other agricultural purposes.
Wyoming is home to about 40 percent of the sage grouse population in the West, though birds are found in 11 other states and across the Canadian border. The state has taken a central role in protecting the species, both to preserve the larger habitat that sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and other species depend on, and to avoid a federal endangered species listing. Sage grouse numbers are likely to decline next year, part of a downswing in the bird’s population that happens about every decade, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied a petition to put the Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) on the federal list of endangered species. The Bicknell’s is a medium-size (6-7.5 inches) thrush—brown on the back with a white, spotted underside—that dwells in dense balsam-fir forests in high elevations in the Adirondacks. Following is a primer on other wildlife in trouble in the Adirondack Park.
The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) belongs to the grouse family of birds so iconic to prairie culture. This brown-barred, stocky species nests in shrubbery and grasses of the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado. David Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Livestock Supply in Woodward, recollected that the prairie-chickens were often spotted on his family’s 120-year-old farm in eastern Woodward when he was young. “There were just thousands of them everywhere,” the 57-year-old told me.
In the mid-1990s, the observed decline of the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola in Hokkaido, Japan alerted conservationists that another super-abundant species might be in trouble. Now we know it has suffered a huge decline, possibly as much as 95 percent of its population, in the span of just two to three decades.
Once common, Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferus) and other nocturnal nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) species are disappearing from Illinois forests as their habitats shrink and change, according to data from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), a division of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute. “Because they are nocturnal, monitoring for nightjars can be challenging, but we suspect that they are declining,” said Tara Beveroth, an INHS avian researcher.
Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken hunters can again this year voluntarily submit samples for study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ongoing DNR research is assessing prairie grouse exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids. These are pesticides that, once applied, can move throughout a plant. Neonicotinoids are commonly applied to seeds before planting.
“We’re into our third year of this study assessing whether prairie grouse have been exposed to neonicotinoids by eating treated seeds or other ways,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader.
The Living Planet Report Canada, published today, is the most comprehensive synthesis of Canadian wildlife population trends ever conducted. It shows that on average from 1970 to 2014, half of monitored vertebrate wildlife species in the study suffered population declines. Of those, average decline is 83 per cent since 1970. The picture is also worrisome for Canada’s federally protected species. Since 2002, when the Species at Risk Act became law, federally listed at-risk wildlife populations declined by 28 per cent, the report shows.