One of North America’s rarest birds has made a comeback from the brink of extinction despite living in the middle of a US Navy firing range known as the “boom box”.
The numbers of the San Clemente Island loggerhead shrike dwindled to just seven breeding pairs in the 1990s but have now recovered to about 70 pairs.
The black, grey and white songbird lives on San Clemente Island, a windswept volcanic outpost off the California coast that is also home to the only naval sea-to-shore bombardment training range in the United States. It is regularly rocked by the explosion of falling missiles and targeted in amphibious assaults.
Credit for the shrikes’ revival is being given to the navy itself, which launched a captive breeding program, and also to the birds’ hardy ability to ignore the chaos. Melissa Booker, a navy biologist, said: “The shrike seems to be unaffected by the loud noises.”
The recovery also highlights a growing practice of the US military to protect endangered species in order to head off possible future confrontations with conservationists.
That included buying areas of threatened habitat close to military bases. Commander Christopher Kirby, the officer in charge of San Clemente, said: “If we were to abuse the island, we would lose it.”
Snipers training there have been ordered to avoid the nests of endangered birds, and the nests of threatened western snowy plovers have been moved to avoid tanks. The population of San Clemente Island foxes has risen to more than 1100 over the past decade, and the navy is petitioning to have the San Clemente night lizard taken off the endangered species list.