tri-colored blackbirds saved by Audubon
- San Jacinto, CA, May 23, 2006 - Audubon California and the San Bernardino
Valley Audubon Society announced today that they had reached an agreement
with a farmer in Riverside County to help protect southern California's
largest colony of rare Tri-colored Blackbirds.
Audubon will pay a San Jacinto area dairy an undisclosed amount to delay the
harvest of 13 acres of wheat where the blackbirds have set up a dense
nesting colony. In return, the landowner has voluntarily agreed to not
harvest until June 12. The one-month delay in harvesting will provide
enough time for the young blackbirds to mature and leave the nest. While the
one month delay is a benefit for the birds, it is an economic hardship for
the farmer which is why a market solution was needed. The nutritional value
of the wheat, and hence its market value is lost when the harvest is delayed
to this extent.
"Audubon is grateful that the agricultural community is working with us to
craft a solution that works both for the birds and the farmers," said Graham
Chisholm, Audubon California's Director of Conservation. "The Tri-colored
Blackbird has evolved in California over the past 3 million years, and this
agreement, combined with other conservation measures will make sure it has a
The estimated global population of Tri-colored Blackbirds is approximately
250,000-300,000 birds with 99% of these birds occurring in California. The
southern California portion of the population, which is geographically and
may be genetically distinct from the Central Valley population, has dwindled
to perhaps as few as 12,000 birds.
It is estimated that this Tri-colored Blackbird colony holds at least 4,000
adults, and that each nest in the colony will produce an average of 1.5
chicks. While in most years the Tri-colored Blackbirds nest in restored
wetlands on California's San Jacinto Wildlife Area (WA), this year the
blackbirds set up their colony nearby in a wheat field three miles from the
Recognizing the risk to southern California's largest remaining Tri-colored
Blackbird breeding colony, Tom Paulek of the California Department of Fish
and Game, Area Manager of the San Jacinto WA, alerted Audubon to the need to
negotiate an agreement with the dairy farmer to delay the harvest in a
portion of the farmer's wheat field.
"I was fearful that we were going to lose this year's entire reproductive
effort and was much relieved when Audubon came to the rescue," said Tom
Paulek, California Department of Fish and Game Area Manager.
Tri-colored Blackbirds have declined dramatically in the past century as
native habitat has been lost in California. With the loss of wetlands and
surrounding feeding habitats, Tri-colored Blackbirds often nest in
agricultural fields, making them vulnerable to nest failure when the fields
are harvested before the young birds fledge. Public and private land
managers are working to manage habitat for Tri-colored Blackbirds in order
to encourage the birds to nest in wetlands and other secure habitats as
opposed to agricultural fields.
Dr. Robert Meese, a Tri-colored Blackbird researcher from U.C. Davis, noted
the importance of this buyout for the conservation of the blackbirds in
southern California by stating that "it is essential to conserve the largest
remaining breeding colony in southern California, as the young birds
produced here will help to sustain the species in the San Jacinto area in
The 19,000-acre San Jacinto Wildlife Area, managed by the State of
California's Department of Fish and Game, and surrounding agricultural lands
are home to the largest remaining southern California population of
Tri-colored Blackbirds. With rare exception, the birds have historically
nested on the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.
Audubon will work with Paulek and Dr. Meese to monitor the colony, estimate
its reproductive success, and more precisely estimate the number of birds
that bred here.
The area around the San Jacinto WA is undergoing rapid conversion from
agricultural use to residential development in one of California's fastest
Dori Myers, President of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, said,
"This purchase is a stop-gap measure. We have to preserve the open space
around the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and similar open space elsewhere in
California or this bird is doomed."
Audubon is part of a statewide working group, including public agencies,
farmer and rancher organizations, conservation organizations, researchers
from UC Davis and others to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect
"Audubon was pleased to be able to help save the most important Tri-colored
Blackbird colony in southern California," said Chisholm.". Audubon
recognizes that the bird's future in California will require agriculture,
public agencies and private conservation organizations working together, and
we are committed to doing our part."
Los Angeles, California
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