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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Western Cuckoos Have Federal Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The western population of the yellow-billed cuckoo found in the United States, Canada and Mexico was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act Oct. 2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the critical habitat proposed for the birds in August would be determined at a later time, according to the agency's press release.

The listing stems from a 2011 settlement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that resulted in a court-approved five-year work plan to speed listing decisions for hundreds of plants and animals.

"Yellow-billed cuckoos were once common along rivers all over the West, but because of our poor treatment of western rivers, they're now found in just a handful of places," Noah Greenwald, the CBD's endangered species director was quoted as saying in the group's response to the listing. "With just a little more care, we can restore the rivers the cuckoo needs to survive, benefiting not just this unique songbird, but hundreds of other plants and animals and people too."

In the regulation, the USFWS acknowledged that the western distinct population segment (DPS) of the yellow-billed cuckoo is threatened by the loss of habitat due to alterations in riparian stream ecosystems, but the agency appeared to stop short of recommending more water habitat restoration for the birds. "While the major threat to yellow-billed cuckoos has been loss of riverside habitat, we do not anticipate any significant new water-related requirements as a result of this listing decision," Ren Lohoefener, Director of the USFWS's Pacific Southwest Region said in the agency's press release. "The water resource requirements for riparian habitat are not unique to cuckoos, and in many cases are already being implemented for other species. Riparian restoration efforts go hand-in-hand with good land management, especially management that promotes good livestock grazing practices."

The birds face additional threats from overgrazing, agriculture and competition with nonnative vegetation. Climate change, pesticide use, wildfires and segmented habitat area also contribute to a complex of factors that work together to worsen the plight of the birds. The existing regulations in the three countries do not provide a consistent level of protection, according to the action.

The birds are estimated to have less than a thousand breeding pairs remaining, and the numbers have continued to decline since their listing was proposed last year.

According to the listing proposal, the birds overwinter in South America and breed in North America. Because the birds' habitat is often near agricultural areas, pesticides that are banned in the U.S., such as DDT, can affect the birds while they are overwintering in other countries. The use of DDT causes eggshell thinning, which leads to reproductive failure.

The listing covers parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington, although the three states that have the highest historical numbers of the birds are Arizona, New Mexico and California.

The agency determined that preserving the DPS of yellow-billed cuckoos that nests west of the Continental Divide is important to the overall species because loss of the population would create a significant one-third gap in the species' range.

The listing is effective Nov. 3.

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