Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Citing a decline in threats, increased bird populations and improved habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is taking public comment on its proposal to remove the black-capped vireo from the federal endangered species list. Much of the songbird’s U.S. range is in Texas, so the Lone Star State is where much of the work to aid it has occurred.
“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) applauds this proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the black-capped vireo from the endangered species list,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. “When a species recovers after serious decline, it’s a conservation success story, and this news is a testament to the exemplary stewardship of Texas’ private landowners, research and work of the department, our non-profit partners and universities to responsibly manage and protect vireo habitat across the state.”
When the black-capped vireo was listed in 1987 there were only 350 birds reported. Primary causes for the species’ decline have included habitat loss and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds who dupe the vireos into raising cowbird chicks at the cost of their own young.
After multi-year scientific reviews that began in 2007, the USFWS now reports there are more than 5,200 known birds and more than 14,000 estimated across their breeding range. Between 1987 and 2012, the bird’s U.S. breeding range increased by 17 percent. Goats — which browse on shrub foliage necessary for vireo nesting — have posed a significant habitat threat, yet goat density in the U.S. breeding range of the vireo has declined by 47 percent. Also, the breeding range in Mexico was previously only known from the state of Coahuila, and in 2003 vireos were documented in two additional Mexican states. USFWS says these and other factors contributed to the proposal.
“According to the best available science and 20 years of repeated monitoring, the Service and our partners have reduced or adequately managed the primary threats to the black-capped vireo, populations are, healthy and stable, and the vireo has greatly expanded its range and population numbers since the 1980s,” states a USFWS frequently asked questions file.
Partnerships involving the U.S. Army, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Nature Conservancy of Texas, Texas A&M, and Environmental Defense Fund, among others, have been key to black-capped vireo recovery.
Conservation efforts have included active management such as prescribed fire, grazing management, cowbird control, a 37-county Safe Harbor Agreement in Texas, state and non-governmental organization cowbird control programs, private lands incentives (e.g., USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Program), eight Habitat Conservation Plans, two permanently protected mitigation lands, several conservation easements, and public outreach.
At TPWD’s Kerr Wildlife Management Area, prescribed fire, grazing management, and population control of wild and exotic ungulates have helped create and maintain habitat the vireo requires to nest, including clumps or mottes of mixed brush with limbs and leaves that go all the way to the ground. Here, agency wildlife biologists pioneered a holistic approach that focuses on healthy habitat that sustains all wildlife, including wild turkeys, quality whitetail deer populations, and black-capped vireos. The TPWD Wildlife Division adapted research and demonstration work from Kerr WMA and shared it across the region via TPWD’s technical guidance program for private landowners and ranch managers.