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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

May 21, 1999
Mike Olson 701/250-4492
Diane Katzenberger 303/236-7917, x 408

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finds Baird's Sparrow Does Not Require Endangered Species Act Protection

The Baird's sparrow, a small upland prairie bird, does not require the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. The Service issued the decision in response to a 1997 petition from the Biodiversity Legal Foundation requesting threatened status for the bird throughout its range.

At the time the petition was received, the Service's Migratory Bird Program was in the final stages of a status assessment of the species. In the assessment published in June 1998, Service biologists concluded that the Service should continue to monitor the status of this species but that listing under the Endangered Species Act was not justified.

Although the Baird's sparrow experienced population declines during the settlement of the prairies by Europeans and the conversion of native prairie to agriculture, the species' population appears to have stabilized from 1980 to 1996, according to North American Breeding Bird Survey data.

"We share the petitioner's concern about prairie species like the Baird's sparrow, where populations have shown declines in the past," said Ralph Morgenweck, regional director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. "Our concerns prompted us to conduct a thorough review of the species, and examination of the data confirms the population has stabilized in the heart of its breeding range in North Dakota and southern Canada."

"In addition, we have seen encouraging results from programs designed to protect, enhance, and restore native prairie habitat on which the Baird's sparrow and many other grassland species depend," Morgenweck said.

These programs include technical and financial assistance to ranchers whose livestock graze native prairie, acquisition of native prairie grassland easements, research on needs of grassland species, and partnerships with government agencies in Canada and Mexico to protect migratory birds.

The Baird's sparrow is a small, brown, short-tailed bird found in the short and mixed grass upland prairies. It has a tan face with a prominent dark spot near the ear, a lightly streaked upper breast and slightly notched tail.

The bird nests in the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. It winters primarily in northern Mexico, although some may be found in southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

A notice announcing the Service's finding on the petition to list the Baird’s sparrow appears in today's Federal Register.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 Ecological Services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Baird’s Sparrow Factsheet

The Baird’s sparrow is a small, short-tailed finch endemic to the northern Great Plains. It has a tan, buff, or tinged yellowish (ochre) face, with a prominent dark spot on the upper rear of the ear coverts with a lightly streaked upper breast and slightly notched tail. Its behavior and ecology have been shaped by the historical conditions of the Great Plains and the health of its populations dependent on the conditions of native prairie.

Baird’s sparrow has suffered population declines due to habitat loss mainly from the conversion of native prairie and grasslands to agriculture.

Range: The Baird’s sparrow nests in the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

It winters primarily in northern Mexico, although some may be found in southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Status: Although the Baird’s sparrow has experienced population declines, the species currently appears stable. Breeding Bird Surveys for the last 15 years estimate the number of Baird’s sparrow in North Dakota at 279,000 breeding pairs, and in Canada at between 500,000 and 2 million breeding pairs. Canada removed the Baird’s sparrow from its list of threatened species in 1997.

Conservation Measures: The Partners for Wildlife program in North Dakota has many programs aimed at keeping cattle producers on the land and thus reducing the threat of conversion of native prairie to croplands.

Baird’s Sparrow and Other Prairie Species

How can the Baird’s sparrow population remain stable while other prairie species such as the mountain plover and the black-tailed prairie dog remain in decline?

Habitat preferences:

Baird’s sparrow: prefer longer to mixed-grass prairie. Available habitat in North Dakota is 5 to 10 million acres.

Mountain Plover: prefer sparse cover or very short grass including prairie dog towns. With a great number of prairie dogs eliminated throughout their range, mountain plover habitat has also been severely restricted.

Summer range: Mostly in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.

Winter range: Approximately 90 percent of the mountain plovers winter in California.

Mountain plover strongholds are in northeastern Colorado and northeastern Montana.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog: has experienced a 95 percent reduction in available habitat since the turn of the century. The range of the black-tailed prairie dog extends from southern Canada to northern Mexico and from approximately the 98th meridian west to the Rocky Maintains. They occur in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and have been extirpated in Arizona since the 1960's. Recently, occupied acreage for black-tailed prairie dogs was estimated to be less than one million acres.

Population Status:

Baird’s sparrow: Approximately 279,000 breeding pairs in North Dakota. The Baird’s sparrow also has a significant and stable population in Canada estimated between 500,000 and 2 million breeding pairs.

Mountain Plover: Less than 10,000 individuals. Breeding Bird Surveys indicate a 50% decline since 1966.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog: Estimating numbers of prairie dogs is very difficult; the range of the species is vast and much of it is remote. Populations in different locales are periodically expanding and/or decreasing, and all available census techniques are subject to considerable variability.

Monitoring Species of Concern:

The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor the Baird’s sparrow, mountain plover, and prairie dogs with the assistance of our partners.

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