With defense money, scientists swap eggs to reverse lark's decline

Aug 1, 2011

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Wildlife biologists are employing a little trickery to stop the downward spiral of a rare grassland bird in Western Washington. On Friday, biologists took eggs from healthier larks in Oregon and swapping them into western Washington nests, hoping the lark mothers don't notice.

The streaked horned lark is a songbird native to western Oregon and Washington. This little guy is slightly smaller than a robin.

The bird is a candidate for the federal endangered species list. Biologist Hannah Anderson with the Center for Natural Lands Management noticed a high rate of hatching failures among horned larks on south Puget Sound prairies.

"We think they're inbred and having low genetic diversity," Anderson says. "We're trying to infuse the population with increased diversity by bringing in eggs from a population not exhibiting signs of inbreeding."

Those replacement eggs come from Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Anderson says the female larks in Washington don't appear to realize they've been duped.

"Both of the first two, the mother has returned to the nest and incubated the eggs and the eggs hatched," she says.

Money for the two-year project comes from an unexpected source, the Defense Department. Anderson explains the military hopes to ward off an endangered species listing that could limit training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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