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Piping plover

In April, piping plovers return to the beaches of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Photo by USFWS: Matt Poole

April 2014


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Happy April Fools’ Day and Happy National Humor Month! Although laughter is thought to be a uniquely human feature, some research indicates that animals, particularly mammals, do laugh.
Heads up, Earth Day is April 22! The Earth Day Network has loads of ideas for getting involved to help your Earth and a list of Earth Day 2014 events across the country and around the world. How Stuff Works Website has 10 ways to celebrate Earth Day.
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the founder of Earth Day. While governor of Wisconsin he helped pass environmental protection legislation but was unable to do so as a U.S. Senator. His intent for Earth Day was to use peaceful grassroots demonstrations to focus national legislators on urgent environmental issues.
Senator Nelson and his staff estimated 20 million Americans took action on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Though students were numerous, labor union members, housewives, farmers, scientists and politicians, from Barry Goldwater to Edward Kennedy, attended the first Earth Day events.
In 1970, environmental concern stemmed from fears about smog, pesticides, pollution and two 1969 headline events: a massive Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River burning because it was so polluted. After Earth Day 1970, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and stringent amendments to the Clean Water Act.
There are four populations of wild whooping cranes. One natural, wild population winters in Texas and summers in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. The others are reintroduced from captive bred cranes: a population that nests in Wisconsin and migrates south for winter; a third small, non-migratory flock in Florida; and the most recent reintroduction, a non-migratory flock in Louisiana.
April is the month that whooping cranes from the natural wild flock depart from their Texas wintering grounds on their way to their breeding grounds in Canada. It's also when many eastern cranes have already reached their Wisconsin nesting grounds. Whooping cranes migrate in small groups that leave at different times.
Known as "ghost fish" to some, the threatened Ozark cavefish is a colorless, 2-inch blind fish found in the Ozark Highlands of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. This fish lives in cave streams and springs and hand-dug wells used to access shallow aquifers for drinking water. Early settlers called it a “well watcher” because they believed its presence indicated water safe for drinking.
One place where Ozark cavefish are found is within a cave pool at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neosho National Fish Hatchery. A staffer discovered the fish in 1989 while checking on water quality in one of the cave-fed springs that supplies water for the hatchery. Now, an underground camera allows hatchery visitors to observe the fish inside their native cave.
Having evolved in near-total darkness, Ozark cavefish have no eyes or need for them, instead they have sensory organs on their tail fin and on their head, which allow them to detect movement and chemical changes in the water and respond to those as an indicator of a food source.
Food choices are slim in caves. Ozark cavefish are associated with colonies of gray bats, another endangered species in Missouri. It is thought that the bat guano feeds small invertebrates that, in turn, provide a ready food source for the cavefish.
The two states with the most federally endangered or threatened species are California and Hawai’i, with 748 listed plants and animals. That’s almost half of the total number of species listed in the entire U.S. Hawai‘i has the highest number with 431 listed species.
Hawai’i contains some of the world’s most diverse flora and fauna, but introduction of non-native animals like rats, dogs, cats, mongooses and pigs has taken a toll on its natural communities. These invasive animals compete for food and habitat and some are predators of native species.
Hawai’i’s state bird is the nēnē, also called the Hawaiian goose. In 1951, the nēnē population was estimated at only 30 birds. Listed as endangered in 1967, the nēnē rebounded after successful efforts to reestablish it in the wild. About 1,950 nēnē live in the wild today.
The scientific name of the Hawaiian goose is Branta sandvicensis. The species name sandvicensis refers to the Sandwich Islands, an old name for the Hawaiian Islands.
Spring is the season for birds to return to nesting areas, but it also the season for bats that hibernate in caves to migrate to summer areas. From March through May Indiana bats (an endangered species) and northern long-eared bats (proposed as endangered) will return to wooded areas in the central and eastern U.S. where females will give birth and raise their young.
Indiana bat spring migration begins in late March, but most do not leave winter hibernacula until late April to early May. Females emerge first, between late March and early May. Most males begin to emerge from mid- to late April. Adult female Indiana bats are very loyal to their maternity range, returning to the same maternity colony every spring.
The largest known hibernation site of the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is found in Missouri and was discovered only two years ago by a private caver.
The goal of the Endangered Species Act is preventing extinction and providing a path to recovery for imperiled plants and animals, to the point that protection of the Act is no longer needed. Recovery of a listed species is cause for celebration. To date, 24 U.S. and foreign species have been removed from the list because they have recovered.
Among the species that have recovered and are now delisted (removed from ESA protection) are well-known animals like the bald eagle, gray whale, brown pelican and American falcon. Some lesser known species include Eggert’s sunflower, the Lake Erie watersnake and the Magazine Mountain shagreen (a snail).
For the Lake Erie water snake, a species that recovered and was delisted, much of the conservation work centered on outreach. Kristen Stanford, a researcher who worked tirelessly as an ambassador for the snake, appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs program. Click here to see a short segment from the program.
Happy Earth Day! The theme this year is Green Cities. Make your city a little greener today by skipping a shower, biking or walking to work or using your favorite mug (instead of a disposable cup) when you go to your local coffee shop.
The Sprague’s pipit, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, is a small songbird that nests in short and mixed prairies of the central U.S. and Canada. They arrive on their breeding grounds from the mid- April to mid-May after spending winter in the Southwest and northern Mexico.
The male Sprague’s pipit has the longest aerial display of any bird, often remaining airborne for a half hour. In one case, one displayed for three hours before descending to the ground. Pipits display by flying from the ground into the wind, singing and gliding, then flapping again and repeating, until plummeting straight down into the grass.
Among California’s 317 endangered or threatened species is the California condor. In 1982 there were only 23 living condors, so, by 1987 all wild condors were captured and placed into a captive breeding program to prevent the species’ extinction.
Since 1992, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing captive-bred California condors to the wild, public and private partners have grown the population to more than 410 birds in California, Arizona and Utah.
Condors are highly intelligent, social birds . Condors, especially immature birds, are inquisitive and often entertain themselves at length with feathers, sticks, and grass, playing tug-of-war, and tossing, chasing and retrieving the objects.
Piping plovers, from the endangered Great Lakes population, return to the shorelines of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior in April. At that time, volunteers and paid monitors walk the beaches to find the birds. Once found, monitors continue watching to see if the plovers conduct courtship rituals, which indicate that a pair has formed that will eventually mate and nest.
If you live in Michigan and are interested, there are opportunities to volunteer as a piping plover nest monitor. Check out the 2013 Piping Plover Field Journal; it tells some interesting anecdotes from plover monitor experiences.
Why save endangered species? James R. Curry provides one explanation in Dragonflies of Indiana. “The effort is directed at saving entire ecosystems which the rare species have indicated are in danger. The common species are usually so tolerant of environmental change that by the time they begin to disappear it is too late to do anything to reverse the destruction.”
Last updated: April 1, 2014