Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Is the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Endangered?

The southwestern willow flycatcher is on the endangered species list in several states (Texas, for one) and on the federal list. The breeding range of the southwestern willow flycatcher is limited to southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, extreme southern portions of Nevada and Utah, extreme southwest Colorado, and Texas. Here in Texas, the southwestern willow flycatcher is now known to live in only in six counties in the far southwestern part of the state, El Paso, Hudspetch, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster.

I don’t have a picture to post, but you can see a picture of the southwestern willow flycatcher here. The most reliable way to identify this flycatcher species is by its distinctive call (hear it here).

This pretty little flycatcher subspecies has lived along streams and creeks. Water sources have typically been quiet, slow moving, swampy or still. The water in the flycatcher habitat may be present in early spring but streams may dry completely by summer. Specific dense native and other vegetation along these water sources make up the flycatcher habitat. Habitats with the required water and vegetation are few and far between. Large areas of dry land separate areas where this flycatcher species can survive and propagate.

The brown-headed cowbird is a nest predator and nest parasite for the flycatcher species. However, disappearance of habitat is the main reason most of our wild birds become endangered. As land has been cleared for cities or for farming, as livestock has overgrazed land, and as water flow has been increasingly managed, more of the flycatcher habitat has been destroyed.

Southwestern Willow Flycatchers are migratory birds. They breed in North America. They spend the winters in Central and South America. They migrate 2,000 to 5,000 miles roundtrip. Much of the habitat along the path of migration has been altered or destroyed. Chemicals and pesticides used in farming in their winter homes in Latin America have also contributed to their demise.

The flycatcher habitat in five states was designated as “critical” in 2005 (Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada). That designation requires other federal agencies to consult with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agency (USFW) before taking any action that would potentially have an adverse affect on the flycatcher habitat. The USFW admits that this designation does not go a very long way toward recovery of this little bird since it is not known whether some of the present habitats are supporting their recovery or contributing to their decline.

History of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Southwestern willow flycatcher was first put on the federal endangered list in 1995. The federal government reviews endangered species lists every five years. The most recent review was written January 23, 2008. Southwestern Willow Flycatcher was still on the list. I have been unable to find reliable estimations of their numbers in Texas or in the other states in the U.S.

Conservation Efforts

There are so many unanswered questions about exactly what is needed to help this little bird recover, and finding their answers is a complex research endeavor.

Conservation efforts must address habitat problems in all areas, whether for breeding, migrating, or wintering, in order for these birds to recover and survive.

Even though countries where the southwestern willow flycatcher winters, and those that are on the migratory path, are not under any obligation to follow actions suggested by the United States, there are international conservation groups and other non-government groups that can be successful in helping with conservation in foreign countries. One such group is Partners-in-Flight.

Small, local efforts in foreign countries, even without government help, can also make a big difference.

People who live in Texas counties I have listed above should be aware of the birds' typical habitat and do what they can to avoid its destruction.

My hope is to bring to the attention of more and more people that our world bird populations are declining. We need to consider this with every future action!

Our Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the Interior interest in our wildlife is important. Let's see who joins Obama's team. You can let him know that you want someone who is interested in protecting the interests of our wildlife and other animals at this link.

There is a section in the last part of my article Humans: Birds’ Most Unnatural Enemy that gives information about bird conservation, in general.


The latest USFWS endangered list.

2002 USFWS Recovery Plan