FORT HOOD — David Cimprich snapped two halves of a toy together to create a bird’s body. After he slid the plastic model’s wings, tail and legs onto it, he placed the final product on its perch.
Cimprich became fascinated with birds as a little boy. Now, as a natural resources specialist for the Natural Resources Management Branch, Cimprich gets to work with an endangered species daily.
“I’ve always been interested in nature, but birds in particular,” said Cimprich, who tracks the number of black-capped vireo at Fort Hood. “I feel extremely lucky to have a job that matches my interests and passions so exactly. It’s just almost unbelievable.”
The black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler — both small birds — are the only endangered species at Fort Hood.
Cimprich said he rotates between 10 colors and color combinations to tag the birds and keep track of the number of males, since they are easier to catch.
There are about 5,400 male vireos at Fort Hood and the population has been relatively stable following a dramatic increase in the 1990s, Cimprich said. The vireos typically live three or four years and were listed endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Oct. 6, 1987.
“We’ve mapped out about 22,000 acres of black-capped vireo habitat on Fort Hood, which is about 10 percent of the area,” Cimprich said. One threat to the vireos is parasitism by cowbirds, which he said is partly managed by controlling the cowbird population by killing them.
The vireos also are accustomed to living in deciduous shrubs and small trees in patchy thickets.
Tim Buchanan, chief of the branch, said there are no training restrictions on post concerning the bird, and the military training on post is actually conducive to the type of habitat preferred by the vireos.
Becky Peak, natural resources specialist, specializes in the golden-cheeked warbler and said there are an estimated 7,550 birds at two sites on post.
“(About) 4,000 acres out of the roughly 217,500 acres that make up the installation are designated as warbler breeding habitat,” Peak said. “When the species was listed as federally endangered (May 4, 1990), all habitat on the installation was subject to endangered species-related training restrictions.”
Those restrictions were in place installation-wide from March 1 to Aug. 31 and included no driving through habitat, staying no longer than two hours in the field or existing roads and no use of chemical agents or smoke.
“In 2005, the amount of habitat on those restrictions was reduced to about 9,500 acres, which is about 4 percent of the installation,” Peak said. The time frame for those restrictions also was reduced to be from March 1 to June 30, which is where the installation stands today.
“Golden-cheeked warblers are endangered because many tall juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads and stores,” according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. At Fort Hood, a healthy population of oak is maintained by treating trees for diseases and through a feral hog trapping program.
While the work the department does falls under the Endangered Species Act, Cimprich said he’s interested in “preserving the diversity of bird life in the world.”