50 years ago, scientists warned of a sparrow’s extinction | Science News

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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, scientists warned of a sparrow’s extinction

Excerpt from the May 25, 1968 issue of Science News

7:00am, May 17, 2018
dusky seaside sparrow

BYE BYE BIRDIE  The last dusky seaside sparrow (one shown) living in captivity died in 1987, nearly 20 years after scientists warned the species was in danger.

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The dwindling dusky

In the marshes around America’s spaceport, Kennedy Space Center, live the last few specimens of a bird that may be closer to extinction than even the much-mourned whooping crane. While the whooper might make a gradual comeback if protected and left alone, the dusky seaside sparrow is as good as dead unless man steps in to lend an active hand. — Science News, May 25, 1968.


Conservation efforts have kept whooping cranes around. Dusky seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens) were not so lucky. The population tanked when efforts to flood out mosquitoes breeding near the space center along with construction destroyed the birds’ nesting grounds. By 1968, scientists knew of only 17 males. Attempts in the 1980s to breed captive males with females of a different subspecies created a few hybrids. But researchers discontinued the program when the last known dusky, named “Orange Band” for the tag on his leg, died in captivity at the Walt Disney World Resort in 1987.


Science News Staff. The dwindling duskyScience News. Vol. 93, May 25, 1968, p. 501.

R. Zink and H. Kale. Conservation genetics of the extinct dusky seaside sparrow Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens. Biological Conservation. Volume 74, January 1995. doi: 10.1016/0006-3207(95)00010-2.

Further Reading

S. Milius. Light pollution can prolong the risk of sparrows passing along West Nile virus. Science News. Vol. 193, No. 3, February 17, 2018, p. 12.

L. Hamers. Seeds coated in a common pesticide might affect birds’ migration. Science News. Vol. 192, No. 11, December 23, 2017, p. 11.

T. Hesman Saey. Hybrids reveal the barriers to successful mating between species. Science News. Vol. 192 No. 8, November 11, 2017, p. 16.

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