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Thu, Feb. 27

Funding offered for study of flycatcher
Projects to help with survey of songbird, removal of cowbirds

The endangered Southwest willow flycatcher and other riparian songbird species will benefit from $2.5 million secured by the National Park Service.

The funding, $500,000 a year for five years, will cover several projects in the Colorado River Management Plan.

According to Park Science Center Director Jeffrey Cross, some of the money will be used for three field surveys during the Southwest willow flycatcher's breeding season. That study and others related to the funding, will go forward as part of the implementation of the CRMP. The final record of decision on that is anticipated today.

The South-west willow flycatcher was placed on the endangered species list in 1995, and it's estimated that between 900 and 1,000 breeding pairs remain in the world. Its biggest threat, said Cross, is a loss of habitat.

"They're tropical migrants and they are losing riparian habitat," he said.

Development and other human intervention has fragmented the flycatcher's habitat, leaving fewer than five breeding pairs in each breeding site.

They like dense vegetation and will mostly avoid people, though occasionally they will set up housekeeping in tamarisk trees near beaches.

"We want to monitor the willow flycatcher as related to the use of those

"In the past, when we've found nests close to or on recreation beaches, we've restricted camping access and closed beaches while they're nesting," he said.

Surveys are expected to begin this spring, as will compliance on a separate project to trap cowbirds in the park.

Cowbirds threaten the native population by tricking songbirds into raising their young. A mother cowbird can lay up to 40 eggs in other nests in a breeding season, leaving them for the host bird to raise in competition with its own young.

Some birds will abandon a nest if they find a cowbird egg in it.

While cowbirds are a native species, Cross said they are opportunistic, seeking out areas where humans or herd animals make it easy for them to find food. In a study 10 years ago, it was discovered that the birds frequented the mule barn and residential feeders.

"They're native but they're attracted to disturbance," he said. "They've expanded their range with people. They're attracted to the mule barn for the grain and to bird feeders in the same way. They like those kinds of artificial habitats."

Public scoping is expected to begin on that project soon, Cross said. As part of the effort, both the Park Service and Xanterra are evaluating mule operations to look for ways to make food less accessible to cowbirds.

Park residents are also urged not to put out feeders during the breeding season, between April 1 and Aug. 31.

"We can only be successful if we reduce artificial habitat," said Park Superintendent Joe Alston. "How we do that is through reducing the availability of feed at the mule barns and at bird feeders within the park."

The NPS is cooperating with other appropriate agencies, including the Center for Biological Diversity and other interested environmental groups.

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