23 June 2014

Can't Even Make a Squeak

Often times we talk about the little details that make Walt Disney World special. That generally has us examining a name on a crate, a book on a shelf, or an artifact embedded in the pavement. However, today, that means looking at a very tiny creature. This is a dusky seaside sparrow hanging out in the Vacation Kingdom.

It looks like a lot of little birds that many of us see flittering around in our yards every day, but there is something special about this sparrow. As it turns out, the dusky seaside sparrows were native only to South Florida, specifically around Merritt Island and the St. John’s River. Between the flooding of Merritt Island to reduce the mosquito population around Kennedy Space Center and the drainage of the St. John’s River to enable highway construction, the sparrow’s nesting grounds were all but decimated. The last female of the dusky seaside sparrows could not be found beyond 1975 and by 1979 only six males were left in existence.

Now, you’re probably asking what any of this has to do with Walt Disney World? Here’s where the story takes a Disney twist. In 1979 five of the remaining dusky seaside sparrows were caught and brought to Discovery Island in the middle of Bay Lake. Though extremely slim, hopes were that by keeping the five remaining males in captivity, repopulation could be possible should a female sparrow ever be located. Sadly, the five remaining dusky seaside sparrows passed away while on the island and the species became extinct.

The last of the dusky seaside sparrows was named Orange Band and, even though he was blind in one eye, he managed to share his story with guests of Discovery Island until June 17, 1987. It is a sad end to a native Floridian bird, but an important story that is played out again and again in the lives of the creatures that inhabit the resort and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including the tribute central land of Discovery Island.

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