This essay was prompted by several postings to Ohio-birds in late August of 2000.
Herein, I wish to address a couple of side issues. As they are fairly minor with regard to the central theme of the present discourse, and I run the risk of getting off the topic of Ohio-birds, I will limit myself to a cursory overview. The actual biological problems surrounding restoration of viable species populations is a HUGE area of research and again I suggest perusing the pages of a journal such as "Conservation Biology" merely to get a sense of the scope of this research. Interested in an ecosystem approach rather than a taxonomic bias?, examine a copy of "Restoration Ecology". Both published by Blackwell Scientific.
Bob Conlon posted . . .
"If ODOW is really interested in Re-introducing former breeding species back into Ohio, would suggest strong consideration be given to Bachman's Sparrow."
. . . which was expanded by Mark Skinner asking a number of pertinent questions which reduce to . . .
"What about reintroducing bewick's wren? I can't remember if Ohio's resident subspecies is thought to be extirpated or extinct. If the latter, sadly never mind the suggestion. However, I think I recall Ontario is reintroducing loggerhead shrikes. Should we? Is it taboo in wildlife conservation or does it make sense to try to reintroduce species before they are completed extirpated? Would it increase opportunities for success? Obviously the approach is used for extremely endangered species condors and cranes come to mind first for me) but is it used often for locally-declining species?"
As regards the suggested species for re-introduction (the wren, sparrow, shrike), all curiously pertain to small songbirds, with a substantial insectivorous component to their ecology. They are also, at least, partially migratory with respect to their historical occupation of Ohio. Contrast this the more conspicuous species involved in US population restoration efforts to date; the California Condor, Peregrine Falcon, Whooping Crane, Trumpeter Swan, etc. These latter are all large, non-passerines, sedentary species (if migratory, sedentary populations have been the focus of the restoration because of the special problems involving re-establishing migratory pathways). Population restoration is a tricky business with respect to the technical manipulation of the species and expensive. This is why it is generally reserved for the most endangered species, and those for which sufficient public support can be counted on over an extended period of time (10-20 years). As I stated in "Parallels", these are early days yet in species propagation for wild release. It stands to reason, the first few dozen avian examples worldwide would involve taxa with which humans already have some experience. Falconry gave us some confidence with how to proceed with raptors, gamebird husbandry gave us some confidence with the approach to the propagation of waterfowl, quail, turkeys, etc. We have further avicultural experience with Columbiformes (pigeons) and Psittaciformes (Parrots) and so we see efforts around the world involving these species. Songbirds were a bit of a mystery. Sedentary forms were the logical first step and even then only when seen as a last resort. The Hawaiian Crow and the Black Robin of New Zealand come to mind; down to just a few birds in each case. I don't know the particulars of the crow restoration but it strikes me that working with the corvidae may have its roots in our familiarity with the raven in Western culture. The boldest steps, by far, were undertaken by the management team behind the restoration of the Black Robin. Here was a tiny insectivorous songbird reduced to just 5 individuals (1 breeding pair) in 1980. The story of this herculean task and its success (100 birds ten years later) is told in the book "The Black Robin:Saving the World's Most Endangered Bird" by David Butler and Don Merton (Oxford Univ. Press). If you really want to learn some of the trials and tribulations of attacking the problem of avian restoration read this book. In the case of the robin, their's was a desperate act, one where trial and error application of various tools and techniques developed and practiced with large, long-lived, slow-metabolism, easier to handle, species was the order of the day. In the mean time, wildlife rehabilitators were meeting and discussing the various needs of their charges - an inordinate number of which include baby songbirds. By my August 1987 visit to one of the largest operations (in the Chicago area) I was impressed with the array of insectivorous, small (sub 30g) songbirds being rehabilitated. The sight of one housing unit filled with migrant warblers (Blackpolls etc.) from the previous spring, all hale and healthy ready for release during the fall migration season, impressed me with how far our knowledge of the caged maintenance of these species had come.
In year 2000, we have the knowledge derived from several decades of working with the mega-avifauna, a couple of decades of modern rehabilitation knowledge, avicultural and zoo experiences, and a handful of case studies at our disposal. Only now can we seriously entertain the application of transplanting, cross-fostering, or like intensive measures to the restoration of a small, migrant, insectivorous songbird. The Ontario release of Loggerhead Shrike, is at once a bold yet logical step in this process. On a national level the species is on the verge of extinction. It is small but not nearly so small as the robin in New Zealand. It is partially migratory with the potential to overwinter near its release point but probably would need to travel as far as southern Ohio. It is is an omnivore. And the Recovery Team recognizes the release for what it is.
----------- Jean Iron
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2000 08:09:58 -0400 Dear Ontbirders, The Recovery Team, its partners, and the participating landowner all are thrilled with the success of this experimental introduction, designed to test techniques and technologies that may be used with formal release activities when the determined protocol for such release can be met. ---------- From a June posting on Ontario Birds
Clearly we have a ways to go.
With any release candidate, the first thing is to ensure the habitat is there to support it. As already pointed out this is not the case for Bachman's Sparrow (although take a look at Hanging Rock O.R.V. park in Lawrence County and tell me what you think).
It also does not pay to release a population into an environment which may look like appropriate habitat but some other pressure behind the decline lurks unseen. For many songbirds, relative to the big, showy species, our understanding of their natural history needs to be much improved before we can with confidence identify the needs of the species for restoration of a viable population. Dumping 100 Bewick's Wrens into Lawrence County next spring could be done for little monetary cost but what would that get you. A couple of years of success only to die out for the same reason they have done so already - a reason that has yet to be satisfactorily identified and so cannot possibly be addressed. And where would you get those Bewick's Wrens? Common out west - I suppose I could swing by Oklahoma and pick up a few. But wait a minute are they not a separate subspecies, a separate genome, from the Appalachian group. Just what sort of genetic witches brew would that make for? What would have happen if, the Gunnison Sage Grouse, way back when (late 70's) was formerly identified as a subspecies (as was thought by one wildlife researcher at that time) and was duly recognized as an endangered population under the ESA. Would the ensuing Recovery Plan have called for the release of other Sage Grouse into region to prop up the species? Only sometime later we discover it was a separate species all along and in the meantime we have a bunch of hybrids running around. That scenario is not all that far-fetched and one that conservation biologists wrestle with every day. Nothing in species restoration is as easy as it seems.
That said, in a conversation with an O.D.N.R. biologist earlier this year, the subject of candidates for restoration to Ohio came up. I'll leave my choice a mystery for the time being but his candidate was the Loggerhead Shrike. We were duly skeptical of each other's choices, but now I must admit it his is an intriguing suggestion.
-- well I could really drag this out as the subject is very close to my own work with Black-capped Vireos but I''ll leave it at that. On to the charisma issue in "Introductions: Epilogue".
Victor W. Fazio, III
Ohio Birds & Natural History, //aves.net/magazine/
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