- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

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

But the migratory bird’s population has dwindled in the past few decades as 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, which says none has been spotted in in Oregon, Washington, or Montana recently.

A large portion of the yellow-billed cuckoo population lives in southern Arizona around the San Pedro River and at Cienega Creek, 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 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 American and winters and breeds in western North America.

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