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Audubon California: State birds face their own serious threats

By Gary Bogue
Monday, March 23rd, 2009 at 7:43 am in Birds, Endangered species.

California condor
condor flying

Audubon California representatives said last Thursday (March 19) that while a new Federal report offers a compelling snapshot of the conservation issues facing birds nationwide, one must look to more regional data to fully understand how habitat loss, climate change and other threats are already taking their toll on California birds.

“California’s very diverse natural landscapes and unique array of birds set it apart from the rest of the country,” said Graham Chisholm, conservation director for Audubon California. “While the federal report does a good job of capturing issues related to California seabirds, for instance, one really has to take a closer look to fully understand the challenges here related to wetland, grassland, and oak woodland bird species.”

The Federal report released March 19, “The State of the Birds,” was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies, and nongovernmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society. The report’s findings are based on 40 years of data, including Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which is based on the observations of thousands of volunteers.

Key issues related to California bird conservation:

** California seabirds such as the Ashy Storm-Petrel and the Xantus’s Murrelet face tremendous potential losses due to fishing, pollution and other disturbances.

** Although the report states that wetland species are bouncing back nationwide it is important to remember that California has lost 95 percent of its wetland habitat in the past 125 years. There have been significant gains thanks to concerted public and private efforts in California though not all waterbird species have benefited. The Northern Pintail, a duck, has experienced stunning declines.

** Audubon California has joined with The Nature Conservancy and PRBO Conservation Science to work with state officials and private landowners to protect and conserve wetland habitat along the Pacific Flyway, which serves millions of birds each year.

** Grassland species are under pressure in California, just as they are nationwide. Nearly all of the state’s native grasslands have been lost or degraded due to non-native grassland species, in addition, grasslands have been heavily impacted by conversion to other uses such as vineyards and housing development.

** California’s iconic oak woodlands — home to sensitive species such as Yellow-billed Magpie, Nuttall’s Woodpecker and Oak Titmouse — are under constant pressure from development and agriculture.

** Shorebird species such as Snowy Plover, Mountain Plover, and Long-billed Curlew face tremendous challenges in California from a range of threats, including recreation, development and degradation of breeding and wintering habitat.

** The continued loss of agricultural lands in California posed tremendous risk for numerous species of grassland, oak woodland and wetland bird species. Programs that work with ranchers and farmers such as Audubon California’s Landowner Stewardship Program are critical to reducing the long-term decline of waterfowl, grassland birds such as Grasshopper Sparrow, Horned Lark, Western Meadowlark, oak woodland species such as Yellow-billed Magpie and Oak Titmouse, among others.

** California voters have approved more than $15 billion in conservation and water bond measures in the past two decades that have lead to tremendous investments in habitat protection and restoration.

** Concerted public and private investment has reversed the decline of species like Peregrine Falcon, Brown Pelican, Bald Eagle and California Condor.

** By looking back, the national report minimizes the growing risk posed by future climate change that was documented in a recent report from Audubon California that predicted that climate change could significantly reduce the geographic range of as many as a third of the 310 California bird species examined in the study. The report noted that much of this loss could be avoided if global greenhouse gas emissions are addressed and aggressive steps are taken to help birds adapt to dramatic increases in temperature.

The scale of these issues facing birds in California calls for dynamic new approaches to conservation. The recent Tejon Ranch Agreement — in which six environmental organizations struck an agreement with the Tejon Ranch Company to set aside as much as 240,000 acres of ecologically important open space — is an example of this new direction.

“The challenges for birds in California are greater now than they ever have been,” said Chisholm. “Birds are part of what makes California great, and unless we take bold steps to address these challenges, this important part of our state’s identity could be lost forever.”

Learn more at

I’m in the process of compiling the results from my “Backyard Bird Survey” of my readers. Over 500 people from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area responded. I should have the results available in a couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between the results of my little survey and what’s being said above. We’ll see. /Gary

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2 Responses to “Audubon California: State birds face their own serious threats”

  1. gayle Says:

    Hi Gary,
    I get a lot of birds in my Walnut Creek backyard mostly because of the fountains that I have. They seem to like hanging out at them. Yesterday I saw a new bird that I have never seen before. Is there a way to send you a picture in hopes that you might identify it for me?
    Please advise how I would go about it.
    Many thanks,

  2. Ca. concern over own ‘State of the Birds” « Bay Area Wildlife Blog Says:

    […] birds but on a more local level CA. has its own concerns. Gary Bogue wrote  about this in his column today and here’s the direct link to the Audubon […]

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