Golden Cheeked Warbler

Texas songbird is again in peril from politicians.

Travis Audubon Society photo

One of Texas’ native sons could be in big trouble. The golden-cheeked warbler, a tiny songbird found in Central Texas, has come under attack from several special-interest groups that would love to move in and develop the warbler’s pristine territory. Land Commissioner George P. Bush, backed by the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, is suing to have the warbler removed from the federal endangered species list. This challenge comes despite the fact experts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have twice reviewed the bird’s status and twice ruled the golden-cheeked warbler still needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Bush and the General Land Office filed a federal lawsuit in Austin against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now the Travis Audubon Society and three other conservation groups have moved to intervene in defense of the Fish and Wildlife Service — the Texas Ornithological Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife.

Juniper bark

The object of the court case is the golden-cheeked warbler, a strikingly colorful songbird that is the only bird species in the world to breed exclusively in Central Texas. Identified by its distinctively buzzy songs, the warbler is totally reliant on conditions specific to the Hill Country. They build nests from the bark of mature junipers and breed in woodlands having both junipers and oaks. Without this particular habitat in 33 counties ranging from the San Antonio area to near Fort Worth-Dallas, golden-cheeked warblers cannot survive.

With Texas’ rapid rate of urbanization, an estimated 1.5 million acres — almost one-third of warbler territory — have disappeared since 1999. Any data purporting to show otherwise has been widely disputed by biologists, wildlife managers and others in the scientific community.

Habitat decline

Other causes of warbler decline are breeding habitat degradation caused by grazing and range improvement; construction of dams that flood the breeding habitat; oak wilt; parasitism of nests by Brown-headed Cowbirds; and overbrowsing by white-tailed deer.

The simple truth is that, without federal protection, golden-cheeked warblers will see their remaining territory overtaken by commercial exploitation. Can we allow this to happen?

Join Travis Audubon in giving this native species your full support. Let’s perpetuate our natural heritage and enable future generations to enjoy an exquisite songbird that calls Texas its home.

Frances Cerbins is president of the Travis Audubon Board of Directors, based in Austin. Travis Audubon was founded in 1952 by Central Texans who “recognized the vital connection between conserving wildlife habitat and the ecological balance necessary for healthy, sustainable and habitable communities.”