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Yellow-billed cuckoo named a threatened species

October 2, 2014

TUCSON, Arizona (AP) — The yellow-billed cuckoo has made the western United States its breeding ground for many years.

But the migratory bird, which otherwise lives in Latin America, has seen its population dwindle in the past few decades because its habitats have been marred.

Now, efforts to protect it are taking shape.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced that the western population of the yellow-billed cuckoo has been listed as a threatened species and will be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The bird resides in 12 western states and in Mexico and Canada, but Arizona has the largest population. There are about 350 to 495 pairs of the bird in the U.S., according to the American Bird Conservancy.

A large portion of the yellow-billed cuckoo population lives in parts of southern Arizona, which conservationists also hope will be protected.

“We’re gonna have to look at the federal actions that affect the cuckoo, such as grazing,” Steve Spangle, who manages the Fish and Wildlife’s ecological services field office in Arizona, said. “We’re looking forward to working with all the agencies on how we can help the species. It’s doing pretty well in Arizona.”

But the agency says the once abundant bird has declined in population in large part because of the severe loss of its riparian habitat, dam construction, a growth in agriculture and river flow management and protection efforts. Over-grazing has also contributed.

“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,” said Ren Lohoefener, U.S. Fish and Wildlife director for the Pacific Southwest Region.

The agency this year also proposed to make more than 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) in the upper Cienega Creek, where the birds thrive, a critical habitat, giving it a layer of protection. Conservationists say that area is threatened by a proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.

A final decision will not be made until next year.

The yellow-billed cuckoo lives in South America and winters and breeds in western North America.

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