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Science and Innovations

Endangered Bird Keeps Its Federal Protection

Jim Rorabaugh/USFWS

The southwestern willow flycatcher will remain on the endangered species list, following a review of its status as a unique subspecies. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The review was prompted by a petition from development and ranching groups to delist the migratory bird that nests along rivers. They argued it’s not a valid subspecies. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected that argument.

Jeff Humphrey, agency spokesperson, says, "We went back and looked at the body of scientific information that compared the bird’s songs to its relatives, as well as its genetics, its morphology—how the bird is put together, the length of the wings, etc.—its plumage, and its breeding locations, to determine that it is a unique entity."

That’s supported by research from Tad Theimer at Northern Arizona University. He adds the bird’s protection helps other species that rely on riverside habitat.  "I think this is going to keep our attention on these riparian areas which are so vital to so much of the wildlife and our wellbeing in this part of the Southwest," he says.

The bird’s populations have improved since it was listed in 1995. The review found it’s still threatened by dams, water diversions, and exotic tamarisk beetles.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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