Ozark Land Purchase Protects Brilliant Blue Warblers

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, December 2, 2008 (ENS) - Rare and vulnerable to extinction, bright blue migratory songbirds can be seen flying through the trees on an 80 acre piece of land in the watershed of the Current River, one of North America’s most biologically diverse streams.

The Missouri parcel links together federal and state protected lands and provides breeding habitat for the cerulean warblers, Dendroica cerulea, whose population is declining throughout its range in both North and South America.

The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with the state of Missouri, the American Bird Conservancy and the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation to protect the privately owned 80 acres in Shannon County by purchasing them to place in public ownership.

After negotiating successfully with the sellers, the Conservancy will sell the property to Missouri Department of Conservation for addition to the Angeline Conservation Area management unit.

The MDC identified the partners and assembled a collaboration to fund the acquisition of what is known as the Horse Creek tract. The Conservancy was able to quickly buy the land in a timely manner.

Horse Creek, a perennial stream, runs across the property and empties into the Jacks Fork River about half a mile downstream from the property. The property and Horse Creek are in the Current River Critical Watershed Buffer Area.

In addition, 37 acres of the tract are in riparian flood plain and have been identified as cerulean warbler breeding habitat.

The American Bird Conservancy committed $35,000 to the purchase price of the tract because it is in an area of the Ozarks where there are high densities of cerulean warblers in the floodplain forests of the Jack’s Fork and Current River.

"While the Horse Creek tract was cleared a few decades ago, it is transitioning back into a mature bottomland forest with characteristics that cerulean warblers prefer - well-developed canopy layers and canopy gaps where tall trees, like sycamores or cottonwoods, emerge above the tops of other trees," said Jane Fitzgerald with the American Bird Conservancy.

Fitzgerald says the purchase will prevent the land from being cleared, which increases brown-headed cowbirds, a brood parasite with devastating effects on the cerulean warbler population, which has declined by 70 percent since the mid-1960s.

The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation committed $55,500 through the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund.

"This property was important for us because it closed a three-sided in-holding on public land, contained a high-quality aquatic resource that was vulnerable to adverse private development, and occurs in a Conservation Opportunity Area as identified by the Missouri Department of Conservation and its partner," said Rick Thom, executive director of the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.

In Missouri, the Nature Conservancy has designated the Ozarks and the Current River watershed as a high priority area for conservation. The Current River shelters the best known populations of 25 globally significant species.

The cerulean warbler suffers from habitat loss and degradation in both its summer and winter range, says the National Audubon Society.

Ceruleans have shown one of the steepest declines of any warbler species, showing a decline of 4.5 percent per year from 1966-2001 according to the Breeding Bird Survey, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Research Centre to monitor the status and trends of North American bird populations.

The remaining population of cerulean warblers breeds in the northeastern and central parts of the United States as far north as southern Ontario, as far south as Arkansas, as far east as the Atlantic Coast, and as far west as Iowa.

Historically, cerulean warblers were especially abundant in the old-growth bottomland forests of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, but these forests no longer exist.

The species winters in the broad-leaved, evergreen forests and woodlands at middle to lower elevations on the eastern and western slopes of the Andes and montane forests of northern South America. But their winter habitat is being destroyed for the production of coffee beans and coca as the demand for coffee and illegal cocaine-based drugs grows.

The main threat to the existence of the cerulean warbler is from just such habitat degradation and forest fragmentation as the human population increases and land uses change, which is the reason the purchase of Missouri's 80 acre Horse Creek tract is so important to their survival.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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