The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is a subspecies of the Vesper Sparrow, a migratory grassland-obligate bird. This subspecies nests to the west of the Vesper Sparrow’s continental breeding range. The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is at risk of becoming extinct. However, KBO’s science is informing important steps in its conservation.
In early 2017, new protections for Oregon Vesper Sparrows that breed in grasslands adjacent to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument were put in place when President Obama issued a proclamation that doubled the size of this Monument. The expansion increased the amount of grassland habitats that occur in the Monument, and thus in the Region’s network of protected areas.
Klamath Bird Observatory’s science informed President Obama’s decision to expand the Monument. The expansion focused on at-risk species and considered ‘ecological’ boundaries to provide further protection for the biodiversity for which the Monument was originally established. Specifically, Obama’s proclamation expanded protection for grasslands and oak woodlands that are critical for bird conservation — habitats that occurred near but not within the original Monument boundary.
One of KBO’s most recent peer-reviewed papers identified these habitats as underrepresented in our regions National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Monuments. President Obama’s expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was driven by this and other regionally relevant science. As a result the expansion benefited some of Oregon’s most at-risk and under protected birds, including the Oregon Vesper Sparrow.
Despite this success story, the Vesper Sparrow still faces significant conservation challenges.
A petition to list the Oregon Vesper Sparrow under the Endangered Species Act has been submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The species is at-risk of extinction because 1) it has a very small population (estimated at <3,000 individuals), 2) for the past half-decade this population has been declining by 5% per year, and 3) ongoing habitat loss and degradation continues to threaten the grasslands that Oregon Vesper Sparrows depend on for nesting. Adding to these challenges, there is uncertainty about why this species is in such decline.
For us to effectively save this species there are key questions we must answer about when and where during its annual cycle it is most threatened. Which threats — threats to its breeding, migratory stopover, or wintering habitats — are most ‘limiting’ to this subspecies? KBO is collaborating with the American Bird Conservancy and many other partners to answer these questions in order to better prioritize conservation actions that will stabilize and reverse its population declines.
The Oregon Vesper Sparrow is featured on KBO’s 2017 Conservation Science Stamp — CLICK HERE to learn more about our Conservation Stamp Set.