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DUSKY SEASIDE SPARROW IS GONE
TINY BIRD IS THE FIRST ON ENDANGERED LIST OF ’66 TO VANISH

SHARE DUSKY SEASIDE SPARROW IS GONE
TINY BIRD IS THE FIRST ON ENDANGERED LIST OF ’66 TO VANISH

The tiny Dusky seaside sparrow has become the nation's first bird to become extinct since the endangered species list was created in 1966, conservationists said Friday.

Along with that sad conclusion, conservationists who spent the past week hiking through miles of chest-high grass and muddy streams said they were virtually certain that three unaccounted-for hybrid descendants of the Dusky have also died."They are gone, all of them," said curator-ornithologist Charlie Cook of Walt Disney World's Discovery Island, where the hybrids were bred.

The last known Dusky died in June 1987 in an 8-by-10-foot screened cage at the island, where it had lived in an environment simulating its former marshland habitat around the Kennedy Space Center. But before the bird known as Orange died, it and three other males had mated with cousins known as Scott's seaside sparrows and produced the crossbreeds.

On March 27, a thunderstorm ripped open their cages, and one hybrid was found dead and three others had vanished, Cook said. The fifth hybrid died of natural causes in February.

There is a slim chance the three may still be on the refuge, but wildlife officials believe the birds succumbed to rats or other predators.

Conservationists have believed that Orange and four of his brothers, captured in 1980, were the last full-blooded Duskies, whose only known natural habitat were the Merritt Island and St. Johns wildlife refuge.

Since Orange's death, periodic searches of the refuges failed to yield a trace of the dark-plumed bird, which had a black-and-white belly and yellow patches above the eyes.

Of the two areas, St. Johns is closer to Discovery Island but the distance of about 75 miles is well beyond the birds' several-hundred-yard range.

"Unfortunately, we've confirmed our fears that there's not a suitable area out there anymore," said Michael Bentzien, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who on Wednesday supervised the last search for the hybrids.

The Dusky was among the first birds on the federal endangered species list, Bentzien said. Its demise would make it the first bird to become extinct since the Endangered and Threatened Species Act was passed 23 years ago, said Herb Kale of the Florida Audubon Society.

The Dusky has left a legacy: a lingering lesson of man's mindless destruction of nature.

The 1-ounce sparrow whose life expectancy was 12 to 14 years was the victim of the pesticide DDT, land-clearing, road-building and other human encroachments on its refuges.